MidWestern Holiday: Blind Faith Cafe

Mongolian Stir-Fry at Blind Faith
Mongolian Stir-Fry at Blind Faith

Senor Lanky and I traveled to Illionois to visit his family for a few days over the holiday. They took us to a wonderful vegetarian restaraunt in Evanston called Blind Faith Cafe which has been operating since the 1970s. They have a large and diverse menu and as I’m not used to having so many option, it was hard to make decisions. I ordered the Mongolian Stir-Fry (pictured above) with seitan, broccoli, red bell peppers and scallions in a spicy sauce over crisp fried glassine noodles. It was quite tasty, and had just the right amount of spice.
Blind Faith Fajitas
Blind Faith Fajitas

Senor Lanky’s mother had the Blind Faith Fajitas with seitan, red pepeprs, green onions and tomato served with black beans and corn tortillas. While she thought the seitan was interesting, and the dish was good overall, the sauce had a overpowering “tomato-y” taste.

Black Bean Tostadas at Blind Faith
Black Bean Tostadas at Blind Faith

Senor Lanky ordered the Black Bean Tostadas which were perfectly fine, if a bit bland. I’m not one for tostadas, but they seem to be popular at Blind Faith and are listed under the “Favorites” section of the menu.

Tofu Vegetable Rice Bowl at Blind Faith
Tofu Vegetable Rice Bowl at Blind Faith

Senor Lanky’s step-father had the tofu vegetable rice bowl, which looked delicious. It was beautifully presented and just the right serving amount. Unfortunately, our server forgot to bring the chili sauce they serve on the side, and the dish suffered from an unbalanced sweet-to-spicy ratio. The table’s favorite dish, which I failed to photograph, was the bowl of Thai Peanut Noodles that we shared as an appetizer. There was just the right salty/sweet/spicy ratio, the noodles were al dente, crunchy topping peanuts left whole.
The Blind Faith Cafe is good restaurant, and a great addition to the neighborhood. I was so pleased and honored that Senor Lanky’s family decided to take a chance and try a new place for them that had so many food options for me. Overall, if Blind Faith would reduce its sprawling menu and work towards consistency in all its dishes, I think it could be great!

Blind Faith Cafe on Urbanspoon

Healthier Cinnamon Raisin Granola

Healthier Cinnamon Raisin Granola
Healthier Cinnamon Raisin Granola

I made this granola, based on recipes from the cookbook Living More-with-Less (the classic world-inspired Mennonite cooking tome) for my work team. It has much less sugar and oil than most granolas, lots of healthy grains, and a hearty crunch. Nuts would add some additional protein, but I eat it over yogurt.

Healthier Cinnamon Raisin Granola

4 c. rolled oats
½ c. coconut
½ c. sesame seeds
½ c. wheat germ
¾ t. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ c. honey
1/3 c. vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla
8 oz. organic raisins.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Bring honey and oil to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat, add vanilla, and stir. Add the wet ingredients to the oats mixture and stir well. Spread on 2 large, greased baking pans with sides. Bake 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes to prevent burning.
Add the raisins to the granola and toss until they are evenly distributed.

Store in a Tupperware or refrigerate in sealed Ziploc bags.

Singapore Kosher Vegetarian

cold sesame noodles and spring roll
cold sesame noodles and spring roll

I organized our office holiday party at Singapore Kosher Vegetarian. Not only do they offer an overwhelming, all kosher vegetarian dim sum meal for only $10, they are also a BYOB, which I love. We arrive with almost 30 people and the staff was incredibly accommodating, cheerful, and helpful. I couldn’t cover all of the different dim sum that we ate, but I captured a few. I love cold sesame noodles and these were nice and fresh tasting and not over-sauced. The spring rolls are what you would expect – greasy and filled with cabbage, but I’m sucker for spicy mustard sauce.

"chicken" drumsticks
"chicken" drumsticks

Singapore has worked hard to make their “chicken” drumsticks as realistic as possible. From the crispy outer skin, the moist, fibrous insides and the “bone” skewer that runs down the center, these drumsticks were so close to the real thing that some of our vegetarian group couldn’t quite make themselves take a bite while the carnivorous members of our group were a bit freaked out. I thought they were delicious, and I love the tangy sauce that comes on top.

vegetable buns
vegetable buns

I usually avoid buns during a big dim sum meal because they are so doughy and expand in your stomach, though I know that they are some folks’ favorites.

tofu with peanut sauce
tofu with peanut sauce

Deep-fried tofu with peanut sauce and sesame seeds. Need I say more?

I missed photos of the vegetable, tofu and “pork” soup, fried curry dumplings, the “beef” and leek dumplings, Singapore potato latkes and, of course, the orange slices and fortune cookies. Take your meat-eating friends to Singapore and surprise them with how good fake meat can be. And if you’ve got a private party, be sure to ask for the room on the 2nd floor with the karaoke machine!

Singapore Kosher Vegetarian on Urbanspoon

Squash Soup with Cumin Pumpkin Seeds

squash soup with cumin pumpkin seeds
squash soup with cumin pumpkin seeds

With the remaining half of the crookneck squash I used for the vegetable tagine, I whipped up this quick squash soup with zippy pumpkin seeds.

Squash Soup with Cumin Pumpkin Seeds
serves 4

soup
1 Tbs. olive oil (herb seasoned oil is nice)
3 shallots
1 carrot
1 celery rib
4 cups chopped and seeded crookneck squash
3 cups vegetable broth
sea salt
freshly ground pepper
1 lime, cut into six wedges

cumin pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup pumpkin or other squash seeds, dried
2 tsp. olive oil
1 tsp. ground cumin
3 pinches of sea salt

preparation
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil, shallots and celery over medium heat, stirring often, until the shallots are translucent. Add the carrots, squash and vegetable broth. Cover and heat until lightly boiling. Reduce the heat and simmer until the vegetables are very soft, about 25 minutes.

While the soup is simmering, heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium high heat. Add the pumpkin seeds, stirring often, until they smell “toasted” and begin to make popping noises, about 2 minutes. Add the cumin, stirring for 30 seconds. Remove the seeds from the pan, place in a small bowl, add the salt and toss.

In small batches, blend the soup until smooth. Return to the soup to the pan, cover, and heat through. When serving, ladle the soup into shallow bowls and garnish with the pumpkin seeds, a generous grind of fresh black pepper, and fresh lime juice.

I served this soup as a first course, followed by seitan cutlets with mustard sauce (from Veganomicon), braised green beans, roasted cauliflower, and sweet potatoe and yukon mashed potatoes.

setian cutlets and sides
setian cutlets and sides

This was my first attempt at making seitan at home, and I don’t think that I kneaded the glutton for long enough. Señor Lanky described the cutlets as “chewy,” and he didn’t mean it in a good way. The mustard sauce and the sides, however, were a big hit.

Morrocan Vegetable Tagine with Couscous

Morrocan Vegetable Tagine with Couscous
Morrocan Vegetable Tagine with Couscous

I have a pantry and refrigerator full of winter vegetables to eat before I leave Philadelphia to spend the holidays in the Midwest. Ever since I tried a vegetable tagine* at a little Moroccan restaurant in the hilltowns of Southern France last spring, I’ve wanted to make my own. Luckily, my local middle-eastern market carries harissa** and I’ve had a small can waiting until winter for this warming dish. My household tends to like dishes more savory than sweet, so I topped the tagine with green onions, though raisins are traditional.

Moroccan Tagine with Couscous

serves 6

Vegetable Tagine
1 sm. Onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 ½ Tbs. harissa paste
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. coriander
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1 ½ c. vegetable broth
Salt
Freshly ground pepper

15 oz. can chickpeas
2 sweet potatoes, cubed
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
½ crock-neck squash, peeled and cubed
1 inch piece of peeled ginger root
1 bay leaf
½ cauliflower, chopped into small florets.
1 ½ c. cherry or grape tomatoes
1 sm. Zucchini , cut into large chunks


Couscous

1 ½ c. water
2 Tbs. margarine
1 ½ c. whole wheat couscous
1 tsp. salt

Preparation: Fry the onion and garlic over medium-low heat in a large skillet until the onion is translucent. Add the harissa paste, cumin and coriander, reduce the heat to low, and let the spices toast for 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and vegetable broth, stir, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the chickpeas, sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, ginger and bay leaf, raising heat to medium and covering the skillet. After 10 minutes, add the cauliflower, tomatoes, and zucchini. Reduce heat to low, the simmer, covered, until the vegetables are very soft, about 40 minutes.

Bring the water and margarine to boil, the remove from heat. Add the couscous and salt, stir, and cover for 5 minutes. Uncover, fluff the couscous with a fork. Serve the vegetable tagine over the couscous and top with green onions or raisins, as desired.

*A tagine is the Morrocan glazed ceramic dish with a domed cover that is traditionally used to cook this stew. You can make yours in a large skillet.

* Harissa is a North African chili paste made with dried or roasted chilis, garlic, coriander, olive oil, often tomatoes, and sometimes rose petals. You can make your own harissa, but it is easier, and usually tastier, to purchase it. Harissa comes in a small can or sometimes a tube, and can be purchased at a middle-eastern or international food store.

Baltimore: The Golden West

The Golden West moose
The Golden West moose
Señor Lanky had some work to do in Baltimore, so I tagged along to visit our friends Laura and John, who moved down about a year ago. They took us to a wonderful and funny Tex-Mex restaurant called The Golden West Cafe, located on 36th St., “the avenue” in John Waters’ funky Hampden neighborhood. The Golden West has an extensive, vegetarian-friendly menu.
Golden West appetizers
Golden West appetizers

Appetizer lovers that we are, we ended with three appetizers: John’s favorite, the buffalo tofu (crisp deep fried tofu balls soaked in spicy buffalo sauce with ranch dipping sauce); breaded, fried plantains with a feta dipping sauce (rumored to have long been absent on the menu due to a soured love affair and a cook’s refusal to recreate the popular appetizer); and fried dill pickle chips, since Señor Lanky and I are on a never-ending quest for the country’s best fried pickles. Everything was tasty in a savory, fried way, though the buffalo tofu was a revelation. Why had we never thought of this before?
Aztec Burrito
Aztec Burrito

I ordered the Aztec Burrito, a three sisters-style dish stuffed with beans, corn, squash, plantains and a bit of pepper jack cheese, topped with both a mild green salsa and a spicier roasted red pepper salsa, served with crema. I think they should use the roasted red pepper salsa for the entire dish, as it livens the beans and squash nicely while also balancing the surprising sweetness of the plantains.
Huevos Montuleños
Huevos Montuleños

Señor Lanky ordered the Huevos Montuleños, two sunny-side up eggs atop sweet corn cakes, surrounded by spicy pinto beans, roasted red pepper salsa, topped by feta cheese and served with flour tortillas and slices of sweet fried banana. The feta may seem like a strange choice, but was actually delicious, balancing the sweetness of the corn cakes.
BBQ Vegan Riblet Sandwich
BBQ Vegan Riblet Sandwich

Laura ordered her stand-by, a vegan riblet sandwich, dripping in tangy bar-b-q sauce, but crunchy and almost caramelized underneath, served on a cornmeal kaiser roll with a mixed field greens salad on the side.
Tater Tots
Tater Tots

Senor Lanky was so enamored with The Golden West that we actually returned the next day for brunch. We exercised some restraint this meal and only ordered one appetizer, the Tater Tots, served in a large cone with ranch and chili-mayo dipping sauces.
Biscuits and Gravy
Biscuits and Gravy

I ordered the mostly colorless, though rich and yummy, biscuits and gravy platter – a large, square buttermilk biscuit topped with two eggs, a vegetarian mushroom gravy, and served with a side of hash browns. It was much, too much food, but comforting after all of the hot sauce I had been adding to my food the last few days.

Overall, I wouldn’t call any of our meals at The Golden West Cafe healthy, and the wait staff can be slow and little difficult (only one credit card per order, little knowledge or concern of their bar menu, which is extensive but undersold) but the food in generally quite good, the atmosphere cheerful, and the prices reasonable. I’m eager to try new places when we next return to Baltimore, as just on “the avenue” I found many engaging options.

Golden West Café on Urbanspoon

Huevos Mexicanos at Dos Segundos

Huevos Mexicanos at Dos Segundos
Huevos Mexicanos at Dos Segundos

On a particularly blustery Sunday I buttoned up my coat, held onto Senor Lanky to keep from blowing away, and went to meet friends for a late brunch at Dos Segundos. The place was almost entirely empty. Bad sign or bad weather? I had high hopes, as I really enjoyed the dinner I recently had at Cantina Los Caballitos. I ordered the Huevos Mexicanas which were, well, fine. The black beans were delicious and not too salty, the rice fluffy, the pico de gallo fresh, though underspiced. I perhaps should have thought more about the fact that I don’t like scrambles eggs that much, and ordered a dish with fried eggs (I had my eye on a friend’s Huevos Rancheros).

Dos Segundos is large and warm, and has excellent service, delicious and not-too-sweet fresh margaritas, and brunch until 4pm so I’ll be back to give one of the many other vegetarian-friendly dishes on the menu a try.

Cantina Dos Segundos on Urbanspoon