Monday, January 31, 2011

Margarita's, Waterloo (and an Engagement Party)

Our friends Kathy and Kurtis got engaged over the holidays, and while we all said our congrats, their news got kind of mixed in with various Christmas events. As a result, many of us felt like we didn't have a proper opportunity to celebrate them and their news. So, once the holiday chaos was over a bunch of us got to planning a surprise night out in honour of the big journey down the aisle that is going to take place next year.

Despite hearing nothing but amazing praise for Margarita's restaurant in uptown Waterloo, I had never been there. Many of these rave reviews came from the happy couple themselves, so I figured it would be a good place to have dinner before heading to one of the numerous pubs and bars that line King Street in Waterloo.

I was a bit apprehensive about anchoring our party at Margarita's, as I know that seating is limited on busy Saturday nights and we had a party of about 30 people wanting to flood their restaurant and take up all their chairs. I called a week in advance and the staff didn't even question accommodating us - the girl I spoke to on the phone assured me that they would find a way to make it work.

Mango Margarita - word to the wise, these margaritas seemed to get bigger and stronger as the night progressed!

Not only did they take a reservation so large on a busy Saturday night, but they took a staggered reservation, with the bulk of us arriving at 7:30 and the couple of honour arriving at 8:00, so that we could surprise them when they walked in.

We got there around 7:15, because I wanted to make sure that everything was in order for when the guests started to arrive. I fully expected nothing to be set up yet and it would have been reasonable had it not been. I was very pleasantly surprised to see that not only had our tables been set up and sectioned off from the rest of the restaurant, but that they had done it so early (no doubt sacrificing prime dining room seating on a Saturday night).

Guests started to arrive and take their seats, and we realized we were short on chairs. Our waiter was on it, and spent a good deal of the early evening just searching the restaurant for spare chairs (something that was very limited at the time). When not a single chair remained anywhere in and around the general vicinity, he even offered to kneel and allow the stray guest a spot on his knee (this guy was so accommodating that I'm pretty sure he was only half joking). Instead, he managed to find not only another chair but another table, which he moved over to ours so that we would not be so crowded.

The couple of honour arrived around 8:15...I think they were surprised!

Margarita's allowed us to pretty much take over the restaurant on the busiest night of the week and the fact that we had so many people didn't hinder their service one bit. Once everyone was seated, our server immediately started taking drink orders. He was quick, efficient and extremely helpful in determining what us vegetarians could and could not eat. And he kept the drinks coming in a timely manner (absolutely integral in a party setting and unfortunately something many other restaurants are unable to handle in large groups).

Matt and Paul - pinkies up for girlie drinks!

Me and Tracy, waiting for our margarita and virgin daiquiri, respectively and listening to the amazing mariachi band!

Paul and the groom-to-be, with Dos Equis!

Me, the bride-to-be, and the amazing mango margaritas

Alright, let's get on to the most important part of a restaurant review - the food! Because let's face it, in the past I have been known to put up with seriously bad restaurant service if the food is good enough. Margarita's already had points for service, could they deliver with food too?

I'm glad I'm not the only girl that has to drape herself in napkin at restaurants in order to avoid unsightly spills. Which I end up managing to get all over the whitest part of my outfit everytime anyway.

What I am chowing down on up there and what is pictured at the very top of this blog entry is the vegetarian tacos, without cheese. While they have a ton of vegetarian options, the vegan options listed on the menu are admittedly quite limited at Margarita's. However, the server and the kitchen were extremely accommodating in veganizing for me (which for the most part means just removing the cheese and sour cream on the vegetarian selections). However if you are vegetarian, be advised that their rice is cooked in chicken stock and so you should ask to remove that too.

The vegetarian tacos (minus cheese) were amazing. And the guacamole is something I am fairly certain I am going to dream about for days to come. I am terrible at making guacamole - it always has too much or not enough cilantro and ends up a big ol' green mess that sits in the fridge for weeks before finally getting thrown in the composter. As a result, I really, really appreciate a good guac.

And when the time came to say goodbye to our new friends at Margarita's, there was not a single mistake on any one of our many separated bills.

So, thank you Margarita's in Waterloo for helping us celebrate our friends' decision to spend the rest of their lives together and for doing so in such an accommodating, friendly and enthusiastic manner. A special thank you to our server for playing Chair Hunter and for not once rolling his eyes at us (something I can guarantee you that I would have done...repeatedly.) Margarita's, without a doubt, get this This is Vegan: Seal of Approval and I highly recommend it the next time you're celebrating something (especially if it's your birthday - the band's version of Happy Birthday is wonderful!).

4 King Street North
Waterloo, Ontario N2J 2W7
(519) 747-7800

After our amazing dinner we headed across the street to The Duke for far too many pitchers of beer, which in turn resulted in me staying in my pajamas for all of Sunday.

Congrats, my friends!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sweet & Spicy Chili

Generally, I know very little about sports. Specifically, I know absolutely nothing about football.

I am a Canadian Girl so I can make my way through a hockey game with very little comprhensive difficulty. I understand power play and offside. This year, I even finally learned what icing actually is (rather than what I think it is) and it only took a few presses of the 'Pause Live-TV' button and several of Paul's hand-mimed diagrams.

But when it comes to football, even the most patient and thorough teachers cannot get me to even slightly grasp any of the concepts. And believe me, they have tried - all two times that I have tried to watch a football game (that would be Superbowl 2009 and Superbowl 2010, respectively). I'm not sure if it's the fact that I just don't get it or that I just don't care (both highly plausible). It could also be because I have the attention span of a peanut. Who knows?

Regardless, I'm in a constant struggle between my lack of interest in anything that even resembles football and my desire to fit in with the rest of North American society each year around this time.

So, when I was picking this week's recipe to try, I stumbled upon this Chili dish from Vegan Planet and thought to myself, "Okay, cool, let's do a chili - because if it's good, I can post about it and suggest that people try it for their Superbowl parties this weekend! The timing is so perfect! I will finally be one of them!"

So I made the chili. And I liked it. And I wrote a post.

And then someone kindly pointed out that Superbowl is actually next weekend and that I am quite possibly the only person on this continent that doesn't know that.

So there you have it. I am a bandwagon Superbowl poser and now the whole world knows it.

Still, if you have a copy of Vegan Planet, give this chili a try. The contrasting sweet (apple juice, cinnamon, brown sugar) and spicy (chili powder, cayenne, hot green chiles) is pretty cool and this uniqueness gives me a reason to make it now and again instead of my all time favourite traditional crockpot chili. It's decent on its own, but is really great with a side of whole grain rice.

I don't normally endorse using fake meats because their nutritional labels terrify me and I usually think them to be unnecessary to the integrity of a vegan meal. If a recipe calls for them, I typically leave them out, or sub-in the more nutritionally sound tempeh. But when I leave the TVP or ground round out of chili, it always feels more like a soup than a chili, and that's no fun.

Since we rarely eat that kind of stuff, it's hardly a crime to toss it into the chilis I make once every few months. It's still vegan and way more heart healthy than a ground meat (and its contribution to a cruelty-free planet goes without saying), so I say go for it. Just this one time.

I couldn't find a digital copy of this recipe, so this one appears to be an exclusive for Vegan Planet owners only. Give it a try, if you've got a copy! And enjoy the Superbowl..........whenever that may be.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Review: Rusk Go Green Blow Dryer

One of my Christmas presents this year was a Rusk Go Green blow dryer, an exact replica of the one used by my stylist at Hybrid Hair and Detox Spa.

The tag said it was from our dog, Dora. Which is a bit ironic, because there are few things on this planet she hates more than blow dryers. And electric hair clippers. And pretty much any other type of grooming product that requires you to plug it into a wall. Which is why she spends most of her time looking like this:

I love this blow dryer an inappropriate amount and the reasons are many. It could just be the fact that up until Christmas Eve I had been using a blow dryer that was purchased in 1998 and has since developed a series of loose parts that make starting it up sound more like recycling truck than a bathroom appliance. This, combined with the unmistakable smell of burning hair after five minutes of use kind of makes anything made in the last ten years an improvement.

But this dryer is so much more than your average hair appliance!

This dryer gets labeled "green" because it uses 26% less energy than a standard professional blow dryer. I can attest to the fact that this dryer is practically a weapon the way it pumps hot hair (I was not at all expecting it and I think I burned my neck a little the first time). While scalding temperatures aren't exactly great for your hair, it's what us curly-haired girls positively need in order to work through the kinks.

Although it uses far less electricity than an average salon blow dryer, it is incredibly efficient. It takes me half the time to go from soaking-wet to bone-dry when compared to my old blow drying monstrosity. And it does all this all while being relatively quiet (for a blow dryer anyways), a feature that our Dora surely appreciates. Further, the earth-friendly message extends to not only the drying capabilities but the manufacturing itself - all packaging is made with 100% recycled materials and is printed with soy ink and further, Rusk products are not tested on animals.

While I'm playing fast and loose with the vegan theme of this blog by giving this blow dryer the This is Vegan: Seal of Approval I decided to go ahead and introduce you to the newest edition to my post-shower arsenal. While I always have and always will be vegan for the animals first and foremost, my fringe interest in environmental preservation does play a role in many of the lifestyle decisions I make. Sure, the most eco-friendly option would be to let my Curl Flag fly freely after a hair wash, but sometimes a girl needs to pretend nature gave her soft, silky, pin-straight hair. In those instances, a nice middle-ground, low-energy but high-power blow dryer sure does the trick!

Paul - errr, I mean Dora - bought this gift for me at Hybrid, but if you are not in the Waterloo region there seem to be some online options as well.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

General Tso's Tofu

I have ten or so pounds to lose. Clearly, the best way to go about doing this is to eat something deep fried. So there I was, in my kitchen the other night, trying to deep fry tofu.

Obviously, deep frying food is pretty much the worst thing you can do it from a nutritional standpoint. It is also quite hazardous to your physical well-being when the item you decide to throw into the scalding hot oil consists of 90% water. Obviously, I know that oil and water don't mix because even the tiny little elementary school I attended found a way to provide us with science lessons in the seventh grade. However, I apparently didn't realize just how much they don't like each other.

I cranked the oil up to an ungodly temperature, because I thought that that's how it had to be (you can tell how often I fry things) and tossed the tofu in all at once and there it went, sounding like gun shots and spewing scalding oil everywhere.

I proceeded to scream at the top of my lungs and take cover behind our kitchen island as oil popped and spewed all over the stove and countertops. Paul came in and saved the day - even after I kicked him out of the kitchen ten minutes earlier for telling me that the oil was too hot and that I didn't know what the hell I was doing.

My mom and grandma are particularly adept at frying things. Tossing doughs and spring rolls and schnitzels into hot oil without so much as the slightest flinch. It appears to me that the genetic pool has become diluted. Although, I guess that is a good thing, because while I currently need to lose ten or so pounds, continuing to eat like this will make it an even twenty.

Mmmmmm it was so freaking good though.

Recipe found here. I didn't use egg replacer though, as mine had expired long ago without me realizing it. Other than that, I used all the same ingredients (including all of the crossed out items and except for the mushrooms). Another win!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Root Vegetable Chili

Vegetarian Times magazine used to e-mail me recipes what seemed like every day, and I'd compulsively file dozens of them under my "Recipes to Try" folder until there were so many that I could be cooking twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and still not get them all sampled by the time the sun blows up, or the meteor hits, or the 2012 hysteria actually pans out.

But then, just as suddenly as they started, they stopped appearing in my inbox.

While working through my feelings of rejection I decided to use it as an opportunity to actually try some of the hundreds of recipes that I decided were good enough to be saved.

This chili soup was the very first one that I saved, so I figured it a good place to start.

And, one of the key ingredients is rutabega, which I can't ever remember trying before.

When in the supermarket, I've often glanced in the rutabega's direction, filled with curiosity and a little bit of fear because let's face it, their appearance is kind of freaky. What is this weird thing I am looking at? I would often ask myself.

Strange looking, yes, but a solid source of vitamin C, calcium, folate and fiber and therefore no good reason to not include them in my diet now and again.

They are kind of a bugger to peel, unfortunately.

Nothing my Titan Peeler can't handle, though!

Besides the rutabega, there are a whole host of other veggies: carrots, peppers (bell and jalapeno), potato, garlic, onion. And no chili is complete without beans, and I used my most favourite - white kidney.

It takes a while to cook this, as is true of any good chili.

And the entire time it was cooking I was thinking, "This smells so good, but why do I also feel like I am going to vomit?"

Finally, after an hour on the stove, Paul pointed out that the house smelled like cooked cabbage.

I have had an immature aversion to the smell of cooked cabbage since I was a child and a subsequent social anxiety that after being around cooked cabbage, I myself must smell like cooked cabbage.

The tragedy of it all is that I quite like the taste of cooked cabbage, but the smell of it sends me off gagging in search of a gas mask and wanting to burn my clothes. As such, I very rarely make anything with cabbage, unless it is and stays relatively raw (i.e. quickly stir frying it is okay, boiling it is NOT).

A google search with my shirt pulled up over my nose confirmed that a rutabega is in fact a cabbage. A cross between a cabbage and a turnip, to be exact. Curious, no longer.

The chili itself tasted really good, but I honestly cannot get past the smell of cooked cabbage so I'm afraid this recipe isn't for me. Unless I locate that gas mask I spoke of. But please, if you are able to handle the smell, try this recipe because it is so delicious.

Oh, and it turns out that I am the one responsible for ending things with Vegetarian Times. Months ago, I cancelled an old email address that I thought I no longer used, but it turns out that it was this email address that was getting the VT mail and forwarding it to my new email address. Thus, the recipes are once again flowing and I may just have to take up that 24/7 cooking project I mentioned above.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Tempeh, Kale & Sweet Potato Skillet

I love meals that involve a somewhat random mishmash of ingredients and somehow turn out awesome. Bonus points if they come together in under an hour.

This recipe meets both these criteria, and incorporates winterlicious treats like sweet potatoes and kale so that the ingredients are easily accessible mid-blizzard.

Although, this particular week everyone in KW seemed to have gotten the memo that you are supposed to eat kale in January. I had to go to three different stores before I could find a decent looking bunch of kale left in a produce aisle. Good for you, KW! Kale is awesome and I'm glad you have realized it.

There really was no way for me to not like this meal, as every ingredient listed has made it onto one or another of my "omg that is so my favourite" lists. Right down to the curry powder and red curry paste that give it its flavour and starting with...



Sweet potatoes!


In what world could this recipe possibly go wrong?

Give it a whirl by checking out Nava Atlas' book Vegan Express, or simply by clicking here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Lemony Cashew-Basil Pesto Pasta

We are in the middle of the frigid winter, and like an idiot I decide that it is imperative that I consume a freshly made pesto for dinner.

Do you have any idea how pitiful basil looks in southern Ontario supermarkets in January? And how much they want you to pay for it?

But, one night last week, when I stripped off my hat, my mitts and my boots and put my socks on the heater to defrost, I wanted something to remind me of warm summer nights on the patio. Needed something to remind me, actually. Anything to call to attention the fact that winter will not be around forever.

Nothing reminds me of summer breeze quite like a light and flavourful pasta dish, not bogged down with heavy tomato sauces and the traditional winter fare (even though that is delicious too). So, Paul went to the supermarket and managed to find some basil that wasn't entirely black and spotty and some bright red grape tomatoes imported from God knows where, and I got out my food processor.

The recipe for this particular pesto comes from Eat, Drink and Be Vegan and what makes it unique is the use of cashews instead of the more traditional pine nuts.

While pine nuts are alright, cashews are my most favourite nut and when it comes to sauces, they add a creaminess that just can't be matched. Also, pine nuts are freaking expensive these days, due to a supply/demand issue - skyrocketing to fame nearly overnight a couple years ago. You can think of the pine nut as the Justin Bieber of the nut and seed world.

A couple weeks ago I nearly choked to death while in line at Bulk Barn when I saw just how much a pound of the suckers was worth ($30 a pound?!). So, I only use them when absolutely necessary to the integrity of a meal.

While you won't get points for traditional accuracy, using cashews instead of pine nuts makes for a pretty cool pesto, and the added creaminess makes it a little more winter-appropriate. Around the blogosphere, this pesto is also rumoured to make a pretty darn fantastic pizza sauce or sandwich spread too!

Find the recipe here!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Cold Udon Noodles with Peanut Sauce and Seitan

I really haven't had much time to myself in the kitchen over the last few weeks. First came Christmas, then came a head cold so brutal that I spent several days in the fetal position dividing my time between naps and staring blankly at the TV screen. Then came New Year's and the futile attempt at getting organized in a post-holiday decorations home, followed by the return to work.

Needless to say, we've been eating a lot of takeout curry and Tofurky sandwiches.

But now that we're settled and have the first major grocery trip of 2011 under our belts, I've made my triumphant return to the kitchen and even found the time to try a new recipe.

And it turns out it is quite possibly the best thing that's ever come out of my kitchen.

The recipe comes from Vegan with a Vengeance and I have been curious about it since I got the cookbook several years ago. Every time I open the book up, I eyeball this recipe for a few minutes before ultimately selecting something else.

There were two things holding me back. Firstly and most basically - the ingredients list is alarmingly long.

Secondly, I'm really not one for cold noodles. All slimy and squirmy, I think it's the texture that has always sketched me out.

If it was the notion of cold noodles that lead to my resistance of this recipe, the peanut sauce is what finally reeled me in. That, and the fact that I finally found some pre-made seitan for sale in Kitchener:

(A special thanks to Amber of Amber and Tanuki's Random Thoughts for directing me to Full Circle Foods!)

This meal has four integral components, their deliciousness resting on quite precise temperatures.

Firstly, the Udon noodles, which are cooked and then drained under cold water until they are cold to the touch.

Next, the peanut sauce, which is meant to be room temperature:

Then, the vegetables, which are cold and crisp:

And finally, the seitan, which is pan-fried and served hot:

Although there are many individual components, this meal comes together relatively quickly. My fear of that ominous ingredients list was totally unwarranted.

The deliciously contrasting flavours are layered one on top of the other, starting with the Udon noodles and topped with the peanut butter sauce and some sesame seeds, followed by the raw vegetables and the seitan.

The bottom layer is by far my favourite! I'm a carb-o-holic and proud of it.

This recipe has been around since the dawn of veganism (not really, but you know what I mean) and so there are tons of reports from in and around the blogosphere with regard to its deliciousness. If you don't believe us, you'll just have to try it for yourself. And if you don't have a copy of Vegan with a Vegeance, here isthe recipe.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

This is the cake I put together for last night's pot luck with great friends, great food and great conversation. And only a couple glasses of wine, which means that I feel like a million bucks today! This comes as a great relief, as I was stuck at home with a head cold for most of last week.

This cake is a chocolate and peanut butter concoction that I put together on a wing and a prayer. It's the result of three different recipes. The cake itself is a double batch of the basic chocolate cupcake from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. There is a middle layer of peanut butter cream cheeze icing, which is basically just peanut butter, Yoso, icing sugar and vanilla. The top icing is this chocolate buttercream and the sides/2011 piping are peanut buttercream (both are also from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World).

First I was going to do all cream cheeze and peanut butter icing, but I ran out of Yoso. Then I was going to do all chocolate buttercream, but I ran out of cocoa.

Of course I did. Because I am the worst planner in the world.

This was the result. A little bit of this and a little bit of that and a lotta bit of peanut butter.

We sliced it open just after the countdown and the champagne, and everyone seemed to like it - I guess it was my first baking success of 2011!

I hope you all had a wonderful New Year's Eve with the ones you care about, like I did. And I'd just like to take this opportunity to thank you for all the support and encouragement you showed me throughout 2010. I read each and every e-mail, Twitter and Facebook message and do my best to respond to them all. I hope you'll continue to stop by the blog in 2011!

Wishing you all the best for a Happy and Healthy 2011!

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