Oct 30, 2012

burger make over

A burger is a must make over for MoFo. I searched for the best burger to Make Over, which led me to the top 10 chain burger places in the U.S. There is the obvious McD's (link is to VegMac), Red Robin (link is to vegan Bruschetta Burger), Burger King and Wendy's. But then the new front runners are In-N-Out Burgers, Five Guys, Culver's and Smashburgers

At the heart of any burger is the burger itself. Therefore, instead of trying to just make a vegan version of a popular burger from a popular burger joint, I decided to make the burger patty itself as the Make Over. 

In past make overs, I have done the VegMac, using Boca burgers sliced in half horizontally... 

... and I have made Red Robin's Bruschetta Burger, with pesto-aioli, balsamic cream and basil salsa and featuring Tami's Incrediburger

Bruschetta Burger

Thanks to Tami and her Food Network Friday challenges, I gave making burger patties myself a try and have come up with my own great version. 

Mesa Grill Burger

I have been perfecting this for the past year and am now proud to launch it! 

First, I am using the thicker version of the patty in an upscale restaurant burger: Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill's signature cheeseburger, loaded with Daiya, grilled vidalia onion and horseradish-dijon sauce.

In-n-Out Burger

Above it is made into thinner patties and is gracing the better version of In-N-Out's Double Double, in which the stacking order is paramount.

That's it for today's "Burgers In and Out of Dives" episode! 

Be sure to enter to win Tami Noyes' and Celine Steen's new cookbook,
Vegan Sandwiches Save the Day! contest. Good luck!


Get all the burgers featured in this episode below:

Oct 25, 2012

"vegan sandwiches save the day!" blog tour

Welcome to a stop in the Vegan Sandwiches Save the Day! Blog Tour.

Tami Noyes and Celine Steen, the authors of said book, have given me the privilege of being part of this blog extravaganza. 

Tami blogs at Vegan Appetite and Celine blogs at Have Cake, Will Travel. Check them out!

As some of you may know, I was a tester for this cookbook last summer, and have been screaming from the top of my blog the accolades of it. 
No joke; great book. 

This post contains a list of why this book is so great, an interview with the authors and a contest for a giveaway of a copy of Vegan Sandwiches Save the Day! 

This should be one exciting post!

The Reasons

This is a fantabulous cookbook to have because:

  • It is written by two excellent chefs. 
  • It contains sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert.
  • It has all the recipes you need to make anything in the book, including sauces, breads, etc.
  • It has quick sandwiches, travel-friendly sandwiches, potentially gluten-free sandwiches.
  • The sandwiches are made with a variety of fillings: quinoa, bulgar, fruits, veggies, tofu, tempeh, seitan, beans, mushrooms.
  • The sandwiches are made with a variety of containers: tortilla, puff pastry, bread, pita, chapati, English muffin, rice paper, lettuce, soy wrap, bagel, fried bread, etc.
  • There are specialty bread recipes: Green Monster Bread, Brioche, Cinnamon Swirl Bread
  • There are traditional sandwiches, unlike you've had before: Reuben, Po' Boy, Falafel, Rachel, Bierocks, BLT, Hummus, Dagwood, Pan Bagnat, etc.
  • There are unique sandwiches, unlike you've had before: Inside-Out Rice-Adilla, Mac-Shroom, Protein-Happy Quinoa Wraps, etc.
  • The pictures are frequent and amazing.
  • The sandwiches are delicious and there are over 100 recipes.
  • The recipes are well written, easy to execute and are visually appealing.
  • The book itself is beautiful. Full color, binding is strong, the pages are thick, the type is clear, the recipes are concise and make sense.


The Interview

Thank you ladies for taking the time to reply to my questions.
 Let's get the ball rolling: 

Give us a little background about yourselves:  
How long have you been veg? 
Where do you live?

Tami: Jim and I have been vegetarian since 1980. We didn't become committed vegans until 2004, although much of the time since 1980 we ate vegan or macrobiotic. 2004 was when we really drew the line. We live in Northeast Ohio, which isn't known for it’s vegan-osity, but I’m very happy to say that things are improving.

Celine: I've been vegan since 2005, and had been an on & off vegetarian for over 10 years before that. I never liked eating meat, eggs, and most dairy, but I stayed for the cheese and thankfully got over that too. I actually went vegan only a few years after moving to California, and love how available (and somewhat affordable) veg-friendly products are here.

How did Vegan Sandwiches Save the Day! come about?

Tami: Celine and I have been online friends for years. After coming up with the theme, Celine and I were emailing and I hinted at her as a co-author. Celine jumped on-board immediately and I was thrilled!

Succinctly, sum up the types of recipes in VSSD?

We’ve got traditional sandwiches, crazy sandwiches, and base recipes to make them happen. How's that for succinct?

Which is your favorite recipe or sandwich in VSSD?

Tami: Wow, that’s a tough one. I guess I’d have to go with the One World Reuben. My love of reubens is well-documented.

Celine: I'll hurt the feelings of too many sandwiches if I answer that, so I'll tell you which one is my husband's favorite instead; he constantly asks me to make the Carnitas sandwich.

Which is your favorite recipe authored (or one begun) by your co-author?

Tami: Navajo Tacos.

Navajo Tacos

Celine: Tami's From Russia With Love. There are so many great and well-paired up flavors packed in there, I make this one more often than any other.

From Russia with Love

How did you come up with the names of your seitan dishes? (Moo-Free, No Cluck)

Tami: That takes more thought than you’d think! Some people find the usual animal terms, such as “beefy” or “chickeny” put off-ish. So we wanted something that hints at how to use them, but in a far more friendly way.

Do you feel there is a balance between seitan, tofu and tempeh-based recipes and vegetable-based recipes?

Tami: As a fluke, Celine and I did the exact same number of recipes for the book! When we first started brain-storming, we discussed approaches. Celine’s approach is more bean/vegetable/fruit based, where I lean more toward the tempeh/tofu/seitan fillings. So the balance just kind of happened.

What is your favorite thing about your co-author?

Tami: So many things! If I had to say just one thing, I guess it would be that Celine is honest and forthright. When my ideas suck, she gently tells me. And she’s right.

Celine: Her open-mindedness to ideas and suggestions, and her easy-going attitude. That's two favorite things, oops.

What are the differences in your cooking styles?

Tami: I think our cooking styles are actually similar, although Celine is more of a baker than I am. We do have different skills that we bring to a project. Besides the photography (obviously), Celine brings a lot of insight into the look of the book. She’s also a better proof-reader than I am. I feel that coming up with ideas is one of my strengths, like the idea for the book.

Celine, how did you get into photography and what background or training do you have?

     Celine: I only picked up an old camera donated by my dad when I started writing a food blog once I went vegan,so that's about 7 years ago? I switched to a better DSLR a few years after that since I enjoyed photography so much, and have been teaching myself ever since. 

Tami, there is a recipe in VSSD named after your husband, Jim. How did the “Jimwich” come about? What was Jim’s inspiration?

Tami: When we start brainstorming for a book, I become very fixated. I carry a little notebook with me everywhere I go so I can jot down ideas when they come. Some are keepers, and some aren’t. We were riding in the car and I had my little notebook out and just popped the question. Jim knew he wanted barbecue sauce and pickles, then he took both to the next level: barbecued onions and fried pickles. The bbq onions are a natural fit with the seitan. Jim is also convinced every sandwich needs lettuce and tomato.

How did you get into cooking, how long have you been at it and what background do you have?

Tami: The only cooking training I had was in macrobiotics. Back in the 80s, I assisted in macrobiotics classes. I’ve left all that far behind now. I also did some baking for a local vegan cafĂ©, and loved it. I did some cooking there, too. Otherwise, I worked as a server in omni restaurants.

Celine: I used to bake and cook with my mom, starting when I was a kid. I've accumulated a few skills from reading cookbooks and food magazines pretty much nonstop, and even watching food shows on TV. Just like photography, I have no formal training; whatever skills I have are mostly self-taught and also intuitive.

Do you have any pet peeves regarding sandwiches or sandwich making? Are there any tips or hints you can offer your readers?

Tami (and Celine!): Avoid soggy bread at all costs. Pack the parts independently and put it together only when you’re ready to eat.

Do you have a favorite recipe that didn’t make it into the book? Would you share it?

Tami: One of my recipes didn’t make it because of the length, but it’s a crazy good sandwich. It’s the Jibarito and it’s on my blog. 

Jibarito Recipe Link  

Do you have any companion animals? Would you share a pic?

Tami: We have two rescue love kitties: Sadie and Cleo. We’re always on the bubble about adopting kitty number 3.



Celine: Two rescue cats for us too, Willow and Buffy. 

Buffy and Willow

That concludes the interview! 
Thank you, Celine and Tami, for sharing!

The Giveaway

Last, but not least, the publisher wants to send someone a copy of Vegan Sandwiches Save the Day! They will ship to US and Canada.

All you need to do is comment and check back next Friday, November 2, to see if you've won. If you have won (as selected by Random.org), you will have 24 hours to claim your prize!

Good luck!

Oct 23, 2012

joe's crab shack make over

Joe's Crab Shack (warning: the link is decidedly UN-appetizing). Not a place any vegan in their right mind would head to. Although my husband, poor dear, had a business meeting at just this place a month or so ago. He ate leafy greens and talked a lot to mask the emptiness in his stomach. Joe's hasn't heard of the restaurant rule that states that given a group of people, the vegan chooses the restaurant. That is, unless it is a business meeting and the boss chooses the joint so he can write it off as a business expense.

While crabs are about as easy to make vegan as eggs are, given that they are the entire animal on a plate (truly, how horrifying that is!), crab cakes are absolutely doable. Joe's signature dish is a huge crab cake, either served as an appetizer, dinner plate or a sandwich. Either way, they are served with a Sriracha Remoulade. Any good vegan will pounce on the word "Sriracha" and beg the question why it is being muddied by being served with animal parts. 
Let's change that.

This Crabby-Cake is made with a seaweed (don't leave!) infused shredded tofu. Shredding the tofu allows the marinade to permeate the tofu more effectively, thus giving it a hint of sea-flavor - in a really good way. It is formed into a cake, breaded and sauteed.
They serve their sandwich on a brioche bun, so if you want to go authentic, you can have it all by making the brioche recipe in Vegan Sandwiches Save the Day! (and return later this week to check out this leg of the blog tour). 

The cake does fall a part a bit while being eaten as a sandwich, but my hubby, a pre-vegan Joe's customer, informs me that even ones made with crab fall apart; it's just the way it goes. Grab a napkin and dig in, because this really is good enough to put up with a little mess. Even my youngest, who hates with a passion messy food, has resigned herself to the fact that one tends to equal the other.
Make sure to enter the cookbook giveaway for Vegan Sandwiches Save the Day!
Cost Breakdown:

tofu: $2
seaweed, vegenaise, spices: $2
mustard, breadcrumbs: $.75
buns, lettuce, tomato: $4
sauce: $.75
fries: $3
Total to make 4 sandwiches:

Their Cost per Order, with fries: $11.00
Make Over Cost per sandwich and fries: $3.15

Pin it!

Oct 20, 2012

chi chi's make over

Chi Chi's Mexican restaurants has a sordid past. It is an understatement to say that they are no longer the warm and inviting casual dining experience we have come to know this MoFo. In fact, they are no longer even an operational restaurant in the U.S.,  having been relegated to the grocery store aisles of salsa. The brand is now owned by Hormel, making a line of salsas, microwave meals and chips. That is a long way from operating 210 restaurants internationally.

Chi Chi's (whose name is equivalent to "Hooters," yes, it is named for breasts) was plagued by a string of bankruptcies, spanning from 1993 through 2003, when they filed for their final Chapter 11. As if that wasn't enough to put them under, a mere month after this, they were hit by the biggest, most devastating Hepatitis A outbreak in the U.S. One of the restaurants was found responsible for contaminating food, via green onions, and sickening over 600 people, including 4 deaths. After a few months, Chi Chi's settled with the victims and by 2004 had sold their remaining few stores to Outback and eventually closed all their US locations.


Let's get into the food.

Chi Chi's was popular (or was it?) for making Mexican food with an unusual twist. Take for instance the dish below. It is a Twice Grilled Barbecue Burrito. Twice grilled because the beef is grilled and then the burrito is grilled. Before being served, it is brushed with barbecue sauce. Believe it or not, this is really good! The barbecue sauce really adds a great flavor to the burrito. It is filled with grilled seitan, grilled peppers and onions and cheese. You can easily omit the seitan and make it all fajita vegetables, even adding the avocado into the burrito itself before grilling it. But if you bake it, I would add the avocado on top, as in the picture. 

There is no cost comparison for this meal, since there is none possible.

Cost Breakdown

tortilla, lime, oil: $1.25
cheese, avocado: $3
peppers, onions, garlic: $3
BBQ sauce: $.75
seitan: $2
Total to make 4 burritos:

Oct 18, 2012

longhorn make over

I couldn't omit from my list of warm, relaxing restaurant environments a western-themed one. Yes, in other words, a casual dining establishment. Another one. It seems the restaurants in American have been sequestered into two categories: fast and casual. Longhorn Steakhouse, no surprise, is supposed to be reminiscent of a Western rancher's home, complete with oil paintings, photos and Western memorabilia.

Story goes, that the original place was fairing poorly, and was about to go under, when a freak snowstorm blew into town, stranding commuters and tourists. The restaurant immediately offered $1 drinks and saved the business! Almost like a miracle! The only thing I am sure of regarding this story, is that this is one article on Wikipedia that might need a little fact checking. Or perhaps the story just leans toward hyperbole.

Longhorn Steakhouse offers as an appetizer a tortilla, rolled around a spicy filling of chicken and cheese, fried and served with an avocado-lime sauce, the Firecracker Chicken Wrap. I replaced the chicken with black beans, still within the theme of the joint, and used vegan cheese instead of the dairy.

This turned out to be one very tasty appetizer. The combo can be baked instead of fried, just as with a taquito or flauta, which, in fact, is what this concoction is. 

Cost Breakdown

tortillas: $1
beans: $.75
cheese: $1
dip: $1
pepper, cilanro: $.75
oil: $2
Total to make 6 flautas:

Their cost per flauta:  $2.20
Make Over cost per flauta: $1.10

Oct 17, 2012

VSSD, PPK cookbook challenge


As everyone knows,  Vegan Sandwiches Saves the Day! is up for this week in the PPK's Cookbook Challenge. So, if you have the book (and if you don't, get over to Celine's or Tami's blog to check out some of the recipes.) head over to PPK and post your review.

Since I have the book, I definitely needed to make something. Since it is David's birthday this week, he got to pick the recipes, and because he chose to honor another husband, he  picked the Jimwich (Tami's husband, for whom the sandwich is named) AND because he chose the sandwich named after our feline companion, here is my first gratuitous photo of Jimmy, taken by Kate, the youngest, and a budding photographer:


A string of coincidences led from a great sandwich to a cute kittie, although in the pic above he seems to have world domination on his mind.

David has had the sandwich before, so he knew what he was doing when he asked for it. As he was finishing up the Jimwich, wiping his mug and hands profusely, while deeply sighing contentedly, he whispered, 
"The best sandwiches are the messiest ones."

Not that the sandwich is that particularly messy, he just happens to be particularly persnickety.

Thanks, ladies!

Oh! And check back here next week, as Vegan Sandwiches Saves Day! Blog Tour comes to Weekly Vegan Menu. ... and you know what that means! If not, be back to find out.

Oct 16, 2012

long john silver's make over

Have you ever driven by a Pizza Hut, Taco Bell combo? Or a WingStreet, KFC combo? Yeah? How about an A&W, Long John Silver's combo? Maybe last year, but not no more. Yum! Brands, the previous owners of Long John Silvers and A&W are no longer the proprietors. 

Not that they had it for that long, given that they bought it up after LJS went bankrupt, but it was their brainchild to meld, or fuse, two or more restaurants under one roof, supposedly to make it as convenient as possible to take your posse out to eat. The last time I remember eating at Long John Silver's, the great seafood escape, but no escape for the seafood, it still had that corridor-style waiting area, cordoned off with nautical rope and that bell that you could ring on your way out if you were especially pleased with your fried dish and hushpuppy. 

LJS became pretty popular for that frying batter they came up with. Now a days they fry fish, chicken, clams, shrimp, scallops.. no one is safe! 

I wanted to recreate the batter, which was not the problem. The difficulty was what to fry.  The most logical choice, for me, became tempeh. The texture is unusual, the flavor is unique and it is reminiscent of seaweed - especially if you can find the ones made with seaweed. I think I came across that kind once in California. Besides, tempeh is the one protein I haven't used this month, mainly because hubby has a certain dislike for it. I convinced myself that he wouldn't mind anything, if it was fried. I was right. 

Tempeh was clearly the best choice for recreating the Long John Silver's experience, sans the inconvenience and misery of the fast food scene.

Cost Breakdown

tempeh: $5
batter: $1
cole slaw: $1
tartar sauce: $.50
fries: $2
Total to make 4 servings:

Their charge per serving: $4.50
Make Over cost per serving: $2.35

Oct 14, 2012

MoFo chopped! challenge

Roasted Butternut Squash in Popcorn Crepes with Rosemary Apricot Sauce

My dear husband has swept up the confetti and I have composed myself, but are YOU ready? It is Weekly Vegan Menu's first Chopped!/Vegan MoFo Challenge!

Yours truly follows the MoFo blog religiously and was amazed at the incredible option dangled before me. The golden carrot of opportunity. 
The Chopped!/Vegan Challenge
Yes, like most devoted fans of Chopped!, not only have I thought 'eww..gross' at many rounds of the basket, but have boasted that I-can-do-better. Ms. Isa heard these boasts of ours and has given us the chance to put the basket where our stoves are.

I am sure there are some readers unfamiliar with this process. Here is a succinct rundown of the Food TV show:

4 chefs
4 ingredients
20-45 minutes
1 dish using all of the ingredients in the basket
3 rounds of baskets
3 judges to decide the winner

In our only round of the MoFo challenge, BRUNCH, we were given in our virtual baskets:

butternut squash
apricot preserve 

There are over 800 bloggers in MoFo VI.
 This is MY story:

As soon as I read the ingredients, I knew, for better or worse, what I would make. But more importantly, I knew I would actually be making it, not just have daydreams about entering. 

I realized, as anyone reading the ingredients list, that popcorn was the challenge. As much as a raked my brain for different variations of the popcorn itself, alas, popcorn can only appear in a few forms: popcorn kernels (con: can cause emergency tooth surgery), popcorn popped (con: too average), popcorn ground (flour) (con: too messy), popcorn liquefied? Maybe not the last one. I was sure I was the only clever cleaver to go with popcorn flour!
 [Yeah,... probably not :] 

I decided to use my un-original idea of popcorn flour to make Crepes.
Crepes made with popcorn. Popcorn Crepes.

 I popped my fresh kernels, as any self-respecting Chopped Contestant would, ground it into flour, 
(Now I know where the packing material's name comes from - believe me, it isn't the popcorn; it is the airiness it achieves when you open the blender top. I thought glitter was bad! I'm sure I will be cleaning up popcorn debris until next year.) 
and used it as part of the crepe batter. Surprise! It worked! Not only did the popcorn add popcorn flavor (thanks in part to the 'double' cooking of the popcorn), but it did not mess up the crepe itself. 

Popcorn. Check.

Butternut squash is scary enough to send any and all of my kids scrambling for cover; they are not fans of winter squash. I haven't been, either, truth be told. That is, until I learned to roast. See this post for roasting techniques. 

Roasting is a medium-heat cooking where the natural sweetness and flavor of the cooked ingredient is drawn out. That is exactly what I did with the butternut squash. I added Rosemary to the squash to echo the Rosemary in the sauce. It also adds a lovely earth-quality to the sweetness of the squash and the richness of the black beans. Although black beans are not in the basket, the challenge is a BRUNCH one, and a great protein source (in addition to the other wonderful plant proteins) is beans. Black beans also pair extremely well with winter squash because they complement each other.

Butternut Squash. Check.

Apricot preserve had  a few different options in my thread of cooking. It could glaze the squash or become a sauce. I decided on making it into a sauce because adding the sweetness of the preserve to the sweetness of the squash was just begging for a double whammy, and not in a good way. 

However, if I made the preserve into a sauce and cooked it with some apple cider vinegar long enough that the acidic quality of the vinegar was gone, but the delightful tartness remained, then the sweetness of the preserve would be balanced. I used the Rosemary, for the second time, in the sauce. The earthy quality of the herb fared well with the preserve. Doubling up the Rosemary in the sauce and the squash preparation connects the elements of the dish. I was careful to not overwhelm the palate with Rosemary, but to not let it get lost among the other flavors.

Rosemary. Check.
Apricot Preserve. Check.

To sum it up, I kept it simple, not overdoing the dish with too many other ingredients. 
The crepes have a definite popcorn flavor, but not overwhelmingly so. They pair well with the sweetness of the squash with its hint of spiciness and Rosemary. The sauce adds another dimension of sweetness and tartness, again with Rosemary hinting at the edge of the bite. The dish is contrasting enough while complementing all the basket ingredients. It is a complete dish with no one note taking center stage. It is also seasoned well, for those judges wondering. Salt and fresh ground pepper were appropriately used.
 A simple symphony for the palate.

Who is the winner? And who will be chopped?
Tune into MoFo  on October 16!

My recipe is below the pictures.

Oct 13, 2012

IHOP make over

Moseying over to casual dining experiences, breakfast style this time, we are heading toward the uniquely named, but acronym-ly referred to IHOP - International House of Pancakes. When you crave pancakes, I suppose this is a great place to head to!  Oh! Except, it is off-limits to vegans, unless they are in the mood for a piece of dry toast.
 Maybe, grits.

Making this one over is such a pleasure because it still baffles me that eggs and dairy are used in making pancakes; I love to show that pancakes and eggs are not a match made in heaven. Not to mention that all of my kids are pancake fiends. 

I decided to remake their self-appointed healthy pancake, Harvest Grain 'N Nut and their special seasonal Pumpkin Pancake. The Harvest Grain has great flavor, although it is not solely made of whole grains, and the pumpkin one was a surprise hit for the family; just enough pumpkin flavor without crossing over into pumpkin pie land.

While maple syrup is a nice addition to pour on the pancakes, IHOP is very worried that syrup alone won't be enough to sweeten your breakfast. To ensure you receive your proper intake of sugar, they add ample amounts to the batter. What I'm saying is, go easy on the syrup. I added flax meal to the pancakes, not because I thought the pancakes needed anything to "bind" them (flour does that), but because it adds nutrition.

Both are easy enough to make, just keep the temperature of the pan on medium to medium-low to allow the inside of the pancake to cook through.

Cost Breakdown

Harvest Grain:

flour, oats, milk, baking powder: $1.25
nuts, flax, vinegar, oil: $1.50
milk, sugar, syrup: $1.50
Total to make 12 pancakes:

Their cost per order: $6.00 
(Originally it is $8.30 per order with topping.)
Make Over Cost per Serving: $1.10


flour, milk, baking powder: $1.25
pumpkin, vinegar: $.50
flax, sugar, spices, syrup: $1.50
Total to make 10 pancakes:

Their cost per order: $6.00 
Make Over Cost per Serving: $.82

Harvest Grain and Nut