Monday, October 4, 2010

Quick weeknight Dinner: Potato Entrees

Thank you to Vegetarian Times magazine for introducing me to a really quick and delicious dinner idea. Despite the simplicity, these Pesto Potatoes are packed with flavor and are ready in about 5 minutes with ingredients I can keep on hand.

This recipe also inspired me to start thinking of potatoes as an alternative to pasta or rice as the base for a meal. What toppings do you think would turn a potato (or sweet potato) into a satisfying main dish?

Pesto Potatoes serves 2 l 30 minutes or fewer
A baked potato tastes good 24/7 and fills you up like a meal. Stuffing spuds with tofu, pine nuts, artichoke hearts and Parmesan-laced pesto turns them into a protein-packed one-dish lunch or dinner with a Mediterranean flair. Share this overstuffed treat with an office mate or college roomie, or just save half for later.
1 medium-size baking potato
3 canned artichoke hearts, drained and chopped (I used frozen)
2 Tbs. soft silken tofu
2 Tbs. prepared pesto
2 Tbs. pine nuts
3 purchased croutons, crushed
1. Prick potato 4 or 5 times with fork. Microwave on high 3 to 5 minutes, or until tender in the center. Cool slightly.
2. Meanwhile, mash together artichoke hearts, tofu, pesto and pine nuts in bowl. Hold potato in paper towel, and cut in half lengthwise. Scoop out flesh, leaving thin layer of potato on skin, and mash it into tofu mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refill both halves of potato, mounding filling. Sprinkle with crushed croutons, and return to microwave. Cook 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until hot.

recipe from Vegetarian Times magazine

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Uncommonly Green: Dinner at the Uncommon Ground

For my birthday dinner, my wonderful boyfriend picked a place to take me that would combine many of my interests and passions in hopefully one unforgettable meal. He did his research and took me to the Uncommon Ground on a Friday night in September at their Edgewater location which boasts a locally grown menu, an organic rooftop "farm", and a weekly summer farmer's market.

The Farmers Market
Before entering the restaurant, we browsed and sampled at the Farmer's Market in the restaurant's parking lot that runs Fridays from 4-8pm through Sept 24th. Although it was a small market, it had a lot to offer. We thoroughly enjoyed samples including barbecue blue-cheese nuts (from Sweet Sophie's), honey caramel and citrus truffles (Katherine Anne Confections), fresh salsas and golden tomato jam (from Harvest Moon Organic produce) and Rain Organic Vodka. There were also several vendors with handmade jewelry and crafts.

Organic Rooftop "Farm"
Next, we went up to the restaurant's rooftop deck to explore the certified organic rooftop "farm". The produce and herbs grown here are used in dishes served at both Uncommon Ground locations. We spotted vine after vine of cherry tomatoes, countless peppers, fresh sage, and "companion plants" of marigolds. In a secluded corner of the deck, several bee hives were abuzz - serving as a means to pollinate the garden, help the in-crisis bee population, and also providing honey for the restaurant to serve.

The Restaurant
Finally, with expectations very high, we entered the restaurant through the front doors, plastered with proof of the many awards and certifications they've won for their both their food and their ecological accomplishments. And this is where our shining experience started to go dim.

We were seated at the worst table in an otherwise comfortable, cozy dining room - a two-top wedged tightly against a wall. We emptied our water glasses and they were not refilled until after we finished our meals. When the bill came, we realized that the server had brought us the wrong wine, although thankfully it was a cheaper bottle than what we had asked for.

The menu was speckled with names of local farms that also provide many of the ingredients. And while not a vegetarian restaurant, there were at least 3 appetizers and 3 entrees (orchiette, gnocchi, and a portobello sandwich) which I could choose from.

We started with an appetizer of summer-vegetable dumplings. We raved over the sweet, crisp bits of corn garnishing the plate, but sandly the garnish was all that shone. The vegetables in the dumpling lacked flavor and were stifled further by the overcooked wonton exterior.

My next course was the gnocchi. The gnocchi itself had no flavor. While I did enjoy the sauteed patty-pan squash, mixed veggies, and generous sprinkling of fresh parmesan mixed with the gnocchi, the dish simply didn't meld.

My boyfriend said his salmon was wonderful, but based on the underwhelming majority of the meal, we decided not to bother ordering dessert.

Regardless, it's still a uniquely green place in the city, and I will give them another chance someday, but with lower expectations. I've had better luck before at their Wrigleyville restaurant, and though that location lacks a farmers market and garden, it's full calendar of musical performances makes up for it.

Restaurant Tip: Their website advertises a 10% "low-carbon" discount for patrons who walk or bike to the restaurant.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Frozen Dinners: Lasagna with "Meat"

I like to categorize Vegetarians into two groups: Those who love fake-meat, and those who avoid it. I am an avid fake-meat lover. Therefore, MorningStar Farm's new line of frozen entrees sparked an interest for me. While there are a number of vegetarian dinners on the market, very few contain fake-meat as part of their balanced meals.
Tonight, I excitedly dove into MorningStar's "Lasagna with Sausage-Style Crumbles", but perhaps I went into it with my hopes set too high. The sausage crumbles didn't have a strong enough flavor to compete with the roasted-tomato flavor of the sauce. The veggies tasted bland, and well...frozen. And while the ricotta & cream cheese blend was rich and decadent, it didn't blend well with the rest of the dish. On the flip side, I do applaud their efforts to use low-fat cheeses and a multi-grain pasta blend, creating a lasagna with only 6g of fat and a nice 6g of fiber.I'd buy it again if it's on sale, and in the meantime I'll stick to my favorite fake-meat-less frozen lasagnas - Michaelangelo's Vegetable Lasagna and Amy's Vegetable Lasagna ... with either of these choices, you won't even miss the crumbles.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Quotables: Winnie-the-Pooh

This quote perfectly sums up my feelings about food:

"When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"

"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"

"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully. "It's the same thing," he said.

--A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Friday, July 9, 2010

Tasty Travels: PizzaRio!

Brazilians have fun with their pizza.

While in Brazil, I had pizza on at least 4 occassions. Normally, I'd never eat pizza so many times in one week, but the fun flavors and creativity kept it interesting for me.

Ketchup, Mustard, & Mayo
Their pizzas are very light on sauce. Instead, Brazilians prefer to squirt ketchup on top of their pizza slice. When ordering pizza in a restaurant in Brazil, the waiter will also provide a pile of ketchup, mustard, and mayo packets for this reason. I can see how the sweet tomato ketchup and creamy mayo go well on pizza (and confirmed this with a few bites with these condiments), but I didn't get the courage to try the mustard with my slices!

Catupiry Cheese
You'll also have the option to order pizza with Catupiry cheese. This Brazilian cheese is very creamy (almost like cream-cheese) with a delicious smoked flavor. If you order a four cheese pizza in Brazil, I can almost guarantee that Catupiry will be one of the cheeses used.

Sweet Pizzas
It's also quite common to have sweet "Dulce" pizzas on the menu. The pizza below has pineapple, peaches, figs, maraschino cherries, bananas, and cinnamon. Unfortunately it also came with ham, as my dear host family forgot to specify meatless when ordering. It's not easy being vegetarian in Brazil!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tasty Travels: Mantioca

I just returned from a vacation in Brazil, my first ever trip to South America. Stay tuned for various highlights about the interesting foods I tried in my travels. Up first: Mantioca. (man-tee-oak-ah)

Mantioca is a root vegetable commonly eaten in Brazil. I'd never heard of it before, but it turns out I'd just never heard this name before. Mantioca also goes by several other names including Manioc, Yuca, and Cassava. And I've actually eaten it several times before... Yuca fries at Pollo Tropical (a chain common in Florida where I'm from), Yuca baked with garlic and lemon at a Cuban themed dinner party, and Tapioca pudding - yes, Tapioca! - it's derived from the Cassava root. And according to Wikipedia, Cassava is the third largest source of carbohydrates for meals in the world.

On this trip I ate Mantioca several times, in two main ways, sometimes both in the same meal:

1.) Mantioca Fries. Deep fried and lightly salted. They are starchier and thicker than french fries and incredibly satisfying. I had these at least 4 times throughout the trip including several restaurants, buffets, and the home-made fries below:

2.) Farofa (Toasted Manioc Flour). Similar in texture to panko bread crumbs, farofa is served along with Feijoada (fay-joe-ah-da), the national dish of Brazil. Feijoada is a bean stew, usually loaded with meat (but not on my plate!). It is traditionally served with a garnish of chopped collard greens, Farofa for texture, and Orange Slices. Careful though, sometimes Farofa is prepared with bacon grease. Pictured below, a sprinkling of farofa over my friend's traditional (meaty) Feijoada plate.

For a taste of Brazil at home, check out this recipe for Vegan Feijoada courtesey of Vegetarian times:

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Green Tip: Recyclable? Check b4 you buy!

A green tip, taught to me by my friend Krin (thanks!):

Hate to find out that the plastic cups, plates, forks, etc you bought aren't recyclable?

Check for the recycle symbol on the product in the store before you buy. Compare products to find one that's not just a good price, but also can be recycled locally.

Although this seems obvious, I'd never thought of this before until I learned it from her.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Good Things: Prius Taxis

Little things that make me smile...

On the way home from the airport, I was lucky enough to ride in a Prius taxi. After the ride, I started noticing Prius taxis everywhere - counting two yesterday in a 5 minute walk to the train. Every little bit helps, and I hope to be seeing more hybrid taxis around soon!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

"Taste of Wellness" Tours

Now, here's an interesting concept - CHEW Chicago's tour of Lincoln Park's most health-minded retailers. Although I've taken a number of visitors to the farmer's market and whole foods market myself, it never crossed my mind that tours of these places might make a good business. As a local I've been to most of these places before and would be unlikely to ever take the tour, but I think this could be a great orientation for anyone new in town. What do you think of the idea? Love it or Hate it? See below for more information.


Excerpted from

CHEW Chicago—"CHEW" standing for "Complete Health Education & Wellness"—frees feasters from fast-food-blanketed prisons of bad eating habits with numerous nutrition-minded programs and workshops. On the Taste of Wellness Tour, guests will embark on a three- to four-hour walking tour of a Chicago neighborhood and its healthy hot spots. CHEW's Lincoln Park Taste of Wellness Tour, for example, hits the L. Frank Baum–haunted streets of Lincoln Park for a three-mile tour capable of burning up to 500 calories. Highlights include the smoothie-and-yogurt-packed Starfruit Café, the fresh fare of Karyn's Raw, the natural beauty products of LUSH, and a tour of Whole Foods Market (lunch is available in the store's café, but is not included with this deal). Unwind with a 20-minute introduction to yoga from Infuse Yoga Spa, stretch out at Lululemon, and pilot through Pilates with the aid of Balance Health + Wellness. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, Taste of Wellness tour-takers will also tour the Green City Market, sampling local, sustainable eats while quizzing farmers about episodes from the second season of Fringe, which returns to FOX this fall.Included with the Lincoln Park tour is a reusable CHEW Chicago goodie bag of snacks and coupons, as well as a complimentary nutrition consultation from CHEW Chicago founder Jessica Marie. Tours are limited to 16 people per tour, and guests are encouraged to wear comfortable clothing and asked to show up on time when taking the tour. Dig the family sneakers out from storage, affix a watch to one of your limbs, and join CHEW Chicago on a health-helping hike through the city's wealth of wellness.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fake Meat at O'hare

I’m tired of the usual Vegetarian airport options - pizza, pre-made salads (most with chicken already on them), and the same caprese sandwich offered at every stand. So I was excited to find Cibo Express tucked away in O’hare’s Terminal 2, hidden in a hallway connecting concourses B&C to E&F. I had discovered it once on a prior visit, but couldn’t recall where in the airport it was, and after several failed attempts at finding it again was convinced it was just a foggy dream. Now I’m writing down the location so I won’t forget!

While Cibo express is far from perfect – the prices are high and several items did not have price labels– its offerings are a big improvement from the usual airport fare. The shelves are stocked with all natural products (like Late July Dark Chocolate sandwich cookies) and international chocolates (Ritter Sport - yum!). Their vegetarian sandwiches have flair - like a sandwich with homemade boursin cheese, apples, cheddar, and arugula. And most importantly to me – to my knowledge they are the only vendor in the airport that serves what I am always craving – “fake meat”!

The Chicago O’hare Cibo Express has fresh food from Soul Vegetarian Restaurant on Chicago’s southside. Tonight I dined on “Barbecue Bites”, seitan sticks in a sweet barbecue sauce, for $5.99. Also on offering from Soul Vegetarian were a Jerk Tofu Wrap and a “Buffalo” plate with buffalo “chicken” and celery sticks. For $2.50 more I added a healthy side of Cibo's own roasted root vegetables.

According to the website, Cibo Express also has a location in O’hare’s Terminal 3 by gate H1.

See their website to see the listing of other airports Cibo Express can be found at: Different local caterers may be featured at their various locations. For example, I always look forward to a protein packed “chicken” salad sandwich at La Guardia’s Cibo Express.