Thursday, August 25, 2011

San Francisco Street Food Fest

Who: Editorial Assistant Joni Sweet
Where: The Mission District, San Francisco, Calif.
When: August 20, 2011
Why: To discover the best vegan food from street carts and food trucks from San Francisco and beyond!

The Scoop: A few weeks ago, I received an invitation to the media dinner for the San Francisco Street Food Festival. Free food, drinks, and swag bags? Count me in. I had the privilege of meeting chefs and dining in style with many interesting professionals working in the food and media industries. The cocktails? Creative and delicious. The presentation of all things edible? Detailed and beautiful. The service? Prompt and efficient. But the main draw of the dinner—the food? Lacking in veggie options, to say the least. Basically, all I ate during the 10-or-so course meal was some fresh, spicy salsa from Zepeda Foods and amazing roasted lemon and thyme hummus from Love & Hummus Co. atop crunchy cucumbers. That said, the dinner was still a ton of fun, but I knew that, coming from one of the most veg-friendly cities on the planet, San Francisco street vendors could do better for vegan foodies than just salsa and hummus, delicious as they were.

So on Saturday morning, I strutted into the third-annual San Francisco Street Food Festival bright and early. A woman on a mission, I was determined to check out every delicious veg option available from the more than 60 vendors feeding the hungry masses. And man, did I eat.

My date Jeremy and I started the sunny day off right by getting our drink on. A bartender carefully mixed my choice summer cocktail—the Poloma. Like a grapefruit version of the margarita, this refreshing, sweet'n'salty drink made with Espolón tequila (my favorite!) paired well with some gourmet, crunchy summer farmers’ market pickles, with just the right amount of sourness, from Il Cane Rosso

Next, we hit up Azalina’s Malaysian for a fried peanut taco. Filled with a surprisingly spicy mix of peanuts and tofu, the deep-fried taco oozed with greasy deliciousness, and was easily the most memorable meal of the day. I was ever-thankful to have bought the ruby red sharbat, a refreshing blend of coconut, lime juice, and rosewater, as my mouth was practically on fire and waiting in Azalina's long line again was out of the question. 

The samosas from the Bay Area’s first Indian street food truck, Curry Up Now, took me right back to India, where I spent the spring of 2010. While my classmates were worried about getting food poisoning, I openly embraced (and risked) chowing down on the hot, ready-to-eat samosa, pakora, and tikki, cooked up right on the streets of New Delhi. Curry Up Now’s giant, crispy samosa filled with seasoned potatoes and peas, was heavenly. A bottomless pit, I could’ve eaten at least five more, but I refrained, and my health thanks me for it. 

For lunch, I tried Ethiopian food for the first time ever. As one of the few vendors offering an entirely vegan selection, Eji’s Kitchen served up Shinbra Butacha cakes, thyme tea, and spicy lentils and cabbage. I chose the lentil-cabbage combo, served in the traditional manner atop injera, a large, sourdough flatbread. Eji’s helpful chefs explained the utensil-less meal to those in line, letting everyone know that Ethiopian food is to be eaten with your hands by pinching the fillings with the bread. 

While the sweet and sour cabbage was well-flavored, it still tasted like cabbage, a vegetable I find rather unappealing. As a major fan of lentils, I enjoyed those quite a bit. They tasted a lot like traditional Indian lentils, but with a smokier flavor. The injera was like a sour crêpe, which was good, but so filling that I struggled to consume all of it, even with Jeremy’s assistance. My mission was foiled; my seemingly bottomless pit of a stomach was betraying me—I was full.

So while I didn’t try everything, the San Francisco Street Food Festival fared well for me—Wallet empty, my belly full, and still plenty of veg-options (like the cauliflower kati roll and the Mexican spiced hot cocoa!) to dream about before I hit up the festival again next year. Mission accomplished. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Farmer’s Market and Studio Visit

Who: VegNews Editorial Assistant Hilary Pollack
What: The farmers' market, a friend’s recording studio, and a fancy dinner
Where: Palo Alto and neighboring Menlo Park, CA
When: Sunday, August 14th, 2011
Why: To try as many of the vegan treats in my suburban hometown as possible!

The Scoop: Because San Francisco is so jam-packed with amazing eateries and adventures on the daily, I sometimes forget that a mere 40 minutes away, my hometown of Palo Alto has its own repertoire of suburban awesomeness waiting to be tapped into. This Sunday, I had to drop by my parents’ house to say hello and pick up my new Matt & Nat bag (!), and I decided to make a day of it by hitting a few pit stops around town for vegan goodies.

I started with some quick Singapore-style noodles at vegan Chinese restaurant Garden Fresh off of University Ave., and then headed to the Palo Alto Farmers' Market, where I was dying to find and try a RawDaddy's cone. I had read about these heavenly creations on Yelp and a couple of other websites, but had yet to see one in three dimensions. Take the handheld convenience of an ice cream cone and then remix it with unexpected savory flavors and a raw food twist, and you will find yourself greedily devouring a Moroccan Squash Cone or in my case, a Forest and Earth Mushroom Polenta Cone:

Jumping Jehoshaphat, I’m pretty sure that I could have single-handedly packed away about a dozen of these things, but I still had other plans for satisfying my ever-voracious appetite. The VNHQ is kale-obsessed, so I had to drop by this adorable mother-daughter kale operation for a few samples. Rachel Phelps, the founder of Krunchy Kale and Mighty Mouth Foods, and her daughter Sonnet were kind enough to let me try several flavors of their homemade kale snacks, all of which were heavily nosh-worthy while still light and airy.

I was also happy to see Oakland’s Scream Sorbet vending away their delicious non-dairy frozen goods, as well as a slew of other veg-friendly vendors.

After the farmers' market, I decided to pay a visit to Jack (of all trades) Shirley, a friend of mine who makes his own vegan ice cream at The Atomic Garden, the recording studio where he lives and works. Jack is a longtime fixture of the Bay Area music scene, and has done recording and sound engineering for dozens of bands like Rocky Votolato, Dominant Legs, and Broadway Calls. He has been vegetarian for umpteen years, but a couple of years ago, was having trouble going vegan due to his raging obsession with ice cream. Consequently, he started making his own cashew-based creations, and now he is a total expert at the operation and is happily living la vida dairy-free.

We threw together some coffee ice cream and he let me in on his top-secret list of upcoming flavor experiments, including root beer, piña colada, jelly doughnut, French toast, and candy cane.  I nominate myself to taste-test.

To round off my day of suburban decadence, I dined with my sister at the Flea St. Café, an upscale restaurant in Menlo Park. Our server seemed well-versed in accommodating vegan diets, and at his recommendation I started with an heirloom tomato and Alberta peach salad with a pecan basil pesto. The fruit was perfectly ripe and succulent, and the simple but flavorful pesto really made the dish. For my main course, I went with the Summer Vegetarian Tasting (the parenthetical vegan version on their menu), a gorgeous medley of fresh vegetables including Chioggia beets, chanterelle mushrooms, tiny haricots verts, and marinated eggplant. Behold:

This awesome entrée was the perfect finale for my mini-tour. A day in the ‘burbs truly revived my faith that the city isn’t the only place where veg options abound.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Cinnaholic's First Birthday

Who: Assistant Editor Anna Peraino
What: Cinnaholic’s one-year anniversary party
Where: Berkeley, Calif.
When: August 7, 2011
Why: Delicious cinnamon rolls for a dollar? More like why am I being asked why!

The Scoop: So maybe you’ve heard of this little place called Cinnaholic. No? Well, this Bay Area gem bakes up ginormous, decadent vegan cinnamon rolls with more toppings and frostings than you can imagine. I could go on, but for now, let’s just say there’s a reason why these bad boys are on our Vegan Bucket List. This past weekend, Cinnaholic celebrated its first birthday with a four-hour long party, filled with DJs, giveaways, and (as I mentioned before) dollar cinnamon rolls. Needless to say, it was enough to get me to jump the bay to Berkeley.

My roommate and I arrived 10 minutes before the party was slated to end in the hopes that we would avoid lines and get to the deliciousness more quickly, but even the best laid plans of mice and men (and by “mice and men” I mean “my roommate and I”) go awry. Walking towards Cinnaholic, we could smell it before we saw it—the cinnamon-y deliciousness was just that intoxicating. Excited for some face-stuffing, we turned the corner and BAM! A line out the door. We entered the queue, the once-delicious smell now laughing in our faces. (Not really. It was still amazing.)

So hot right now, Cinnaholic.

Half an hour later, it was time to order. The space itself is adorable—black and white tiled floors, Johnny Cash posters, and a chalkboard menu that will make anyone’s mouth water. My roommate decided to go with the Old Skool roll, but as it was my first time at the store itself (don’t worry, I’ve tasted these bad boys before), I went for a roll I'd only heard rumors of—the chocolate chip cookie dough roll. A freshly baked cinnamon bun topped with golf ball-sized gobs of cookie dough, chocolate chips, chocolate sauce, and the classic vanilla frosting? I mean, how can you not order that? So we put in our orders and waited for our fresh-from-the-oven buns.

Ten minutes later, our treats were ready to go. We headed across the street to the University of California, Berkeley campus to indulge on a grassy knoll. Within minutes our treats were devoured, followed by a prompt 20-minute nap in the grass, sort of like the Honey Badger after he’s been bitten by a cobra. After our naps, it was time to head back to the city. A very Happy Birthday to Cinnaholic!  Maybe next year they’ll be giving two cinnamon rolls away for $1? One can only dream.

They’re so big! And yummy! And big!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Millennium Farmers' Market Cooking Class

Who: Associate Editor Jennifer Chen
What: Millennium Restaurant's Farmers' Market Cooking Class
Where: San Francisco, Calif.

: July 30 & 31, 2011
Why: To take a cooking class at one of my favorite restaurants

The Scoop: It may come as no surprise that I love food and cooking. Millennium is one of my favorite restaurants, so when I read that Executive Chef Eric Tucker would be teaching a cooking class using produce picked at the local farmers' market, I jumped at the opportunity. 

Day One: Shopping Day!
We met at the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market in San Francisco to shop for ingredients for Sunday's class. Instead of a set list of items, Eric asked us to find produce we were interested in and we'd base the menu off of what we bought. One of my classmates pointed out fresh squash blossoms so we grabbed a bagful. Next, we stopped by Hodo Soy to pick up fresh soymilk and yuba (tofu) skins. Eric said we would be making a silken tofu custard using the soymilk, and I was thrilled. I grew up eating tofu custard, but never attempted to make my own. Then we went to Blossom Bluff Farm to pick up ripe peaches. Farm Co-owner Fran Loewen gave us each a rare breed of plum to try. Along the way, we snagged snap peas, rose geranium, and abalone mushrooms.

Day Two: Let's Cook!
At 10am, I felt like I was ready for the vegan version of Top Chef, armed with my favorite knives and measuring cups. Eric and his team had coffee and freshly made cinnamon beignets, along with aprons, chefs jackets, and kitchen towels ready for us before we broke up into two teams to make variations on the same menu. My team and I started making the olive oil rose geranium sorbet. I never thought of adding olive oil to ice cream but it gave the subtly sweet ice cream a rich flavor. Next, we moved on to making the tofu custard, combining agar agar and kuzu to our fresh soymilk. Thomas, the line cook assisting Eric, taught me a simple trick to prepare kuzu. Slowly add your liquid then crush up the kuzu, then add more liquid. This way the kuzu turns into a smooth paste rather than a clumpy mess. While the other members of our team prepared the other menu items, we used the restaurant's industrial Vitamix to blend the almond garlic sauce for the panisse. 

Chef Eric Tucker overseeing the panisse and squash blossoms.

We took a break for lunch to taste the fruits of our labor. Ann Wheat, the co-owner of Millennium, joined us for our meals, relishing in our tasty dishes. It was back to the kitchen to make the sunchoke-corn risotto while the other team made a potato-corn risotto. Sunchokes look like knobby ginger root but taste like artichokes. Then we carefully opened up squash blossoms and stuffed them with a savory tofu cheese. Eric showed us how to properly batter them by dipping them in the dry cornmeal mixture, then the soymilk, and back into the cornmeal for a perfect coating. My teammates and I were chanting, "Dry, wet, dry," as we dropped the squash blossoms into the fryer.

What I really loved about the class was learning easy kitchen tips, how to make fresh produce into a stunning dish, and being able to say that I cooked at Millennium. Eric ran the class the way he runs his kitchen, having us taste along the way, creating recipes on the fly, and asking us to work together. When I walked out at 4:30pm, I was exhausted, happy, and full of delicious food. 

Silken tofu custard in a ponzu sauce with 
seared snap peas and yuba skins.

The complete menu is below. Check out our Facebook album for the complete visual tour of our class—from farmers' market to table.

Squash Blossoms, two ways, stuffed with tofu cheese, 
deep fried in cornmeal batter with a cilantro pesto dipping sauce, 
grilled served with a mushroom corn relish

Panisse (chickpea cakes) topped with 
a sweet-and-sour eggplant and tomato, 
served with an almond garlic sauce

Seared snap peas with yuba skins and silken tofu custard

Grilled romano beans with olives

Vanilla-glazed grilled abalone mushroom, 
served with a potato-corn risotto and a sunchoke-corn risotto

Spelt zucchini rum cake, topped with grilled peaches, 
served with lemon verbena sorbet and olive oil rose geranium sorbet