Masala Chai Spiced Tofu and Coconut Kale

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I used to work in an office with one of my best friends. We didn’t actually work together much, but we worked in the same office. We started a daily ritual of having tea every afternoon around 2:30, taking a quick five minute break to steep some tea and check in to see how things were going. I really enjoyed the ritual of taking a break to patiently wait four minutes for the tea to steep before bringing it back to my desk. It calmed and refocused me to have a productive afternoon. In the culture of instant gratification in which we live, there is something special about the daily ritual of forcing yourself to wait for the tea leaves to work their magic in your mug.

So lately I have been thinking a lot about patience and slowing down. And, naturally, as my thoughts often drift to food, I have been thinking about tea and crockpots and marinades and slow roasting. I had this idea to marinate tofu in very strong tea to infuse my cooking with the same flavors that I usually reserve for my mid-afternoon tea breaks. It took two attempts to get the method right, and the end result is a masala chai spiced tofu that is bursting with flavor.

Either I am more attuned to the tea popping up all around me, or there is a similar trend going on in the craft beer world, because the same weekend I made my first attempt at chai spiced tofu, I tasted this delicious brew:

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Local Richmond brewery Ardent Craft Ales released its Earl Grey Brown Ale to a packed tap room last month, and it instantly became one of my new favorite beers. I’m happy to see so many craft breweries playing with this style, because while I love a good IPA, how many IPA’s do you need on your menu? I’ve seen some great creative brown ales in the last couple of years, including this tea-inspired one.

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Ardent Craft Ales Tap Room

Then a couple of weeks ago, Kyle and I picked up Japanese Green Tea IPA, a collaboration beer from Baird, Ishii, and Stone Brewing Company. It tastes exactly as you would expect it to. An India Pale Ale infused with the taste of matcha green tea powder. Citrusy, bitter, floral, herbal. . . it’s a lot a flavor in a glass. If you like green tea, please try it.

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So, enough about what we’ve been drinking. Back to what we’ve been eating. I found some purple kale at the farmers’ market, and I made a coconut curry kale recipe to go along with my chai spiced tofu. It turned out beautiful and tasty, so I jotted down the recipe and included it below. So let’s get cooking!

Masala Chai Spiced Tofu

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Ingredients:

  • 6 masala chai tea bags
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 – 14 oz. block of firm tofu
  • 2 Tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons minced ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon honey

Preparation:

  1. Drain and press tofu. Cut block into six slices.
  2. Heat water almost to boiling in a teapot. Combine tea bags and 2 cups of hot water in a jar or bowl. Steep for 4 minutes, then remove tea bags.
  3. Arrange tofu slices in a glass dish. Pour concentrated tea over tofu. Marinate tofu for one hour at room temperature, turning tofu once halfway through marinating.
  4. Drain tea from tofu, and reserve 1/2 cup of tea marinade.
  5. In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup of tea marinade, soy sauce, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and honey. Stir to mix the sauce thoroughly.
  6. Heat 2 Tablespoons of sesame oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.
  7. Add tofu slices to hot pan and cook until browned, about 5-6 minutes per side.
  8. Add sauce to pan and cook until reduced by at least one half. Suggestion: serve tofu while hot, over basmati rice and cooked greens like Coconut Curry Kale.

Coconut Curry Kale

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Ingredients:

  • 2 Tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 bunch of curly kale
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons minced ginger
  • 2 teaspoons madras curry powder
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut or unsweetened coconut flakes
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Remove stems from kale. Chop stems in bite-sized pieces and tear leaves into a separate bowl.
  2. Heat coconut oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  3. When coconut oil is melted, add chopped kale stems and garlic to pot. Saute for five minutes.
  4. Add kale leaves, ginger, and curry to the pot. Saute until kale is bright green and slightly wilted.
  5. While kale is cooking, in a small pan, heat shredded/flake coconut over low-medium heat until toasted. Remove pan from heat.
  6. Add lime juice, toasted coconut, and salt and pepper to the kale. Toss and serve immediately.
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Embracing the Mushroom

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There was a time that I wouldn’t touch mushrooms. Sometimes, I wouldn’t even pick them off of a pizza; I would just reject the whole slice. If mushrooms had come in contact with my food, that food was no longer edible for me. A friend in college once served me mushroom flavored Top Ramen and tried to pass it off as a different flavor by dousing it with condiments. I took one bite and called her a dirty liar.

I was not allergic to mushrooms, and to my knowledge, I had no traumatic mushroom-related experience in my childhood. I just did not like them. If you replaced “green eggs and ham” with “mushrooms” in the classic Dr. Seuss tale, you would have an accurate depiction of my relationship with edible fungi for the first twenty-five years of my life.

“I would not like them here or there, I would not like them anywhere!”

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People just could not believe that I did not eat mushrooms once I became a vegetarian. I have to admit it was pretty difficult. It’s hard enough to find a meatless meal in some places, and harder still to find one with no mushrooms. I had an issue with the texture. I know, I know. . . how I ate tofu but not mushrooms is a mystery to me too. I also had an issue with the idea of eating fungi in general. Large mushrooms scared me. Portobellos? Way too big. Scary. Nothing good can come from eating a fungus that large, am I right?

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But then, everything changed during the season that I worked at the GrowRVA South of the James farmers’ market. I volunteered at the Chef Demonstration tent with Chef Samuel Baker* from May through November of 2012. You can see my posts about that gig here on Vegology in the Market Chef section. I discuss a foraged mushroom called Chicken of the Woods in a late September post. This pricey little gem changed my mind about mushrooms. Sauteed in a pan with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, the bright orange and creamy white Chicken of the Woods mushroom tastes just like chicken, no lie. It was incredible, and I was hooked.

“I do so like green eggs and ham. Thank you. Thank you, Sam-I-Am.”

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After consuming the gateway drug that is Chicken of the Woods, I started trying other mushrooms too. My next favorite find was the Maitake mushroom (“hen of the woods,” coincidentally) and that one is still a favorite in my kitchen. I gradually worked my way up to the mighty portobello, and fell in love when I had the perfectly prepared marinated and grilled portobello burger last summer. Now I’m unstoppable and I have made a full recovery from my fear of mushrooms.

One of my favorite recent finds was Tosca Reno’s Pesto-Stuffed Portobello Pizzas, pictured above in this post. This dish is fantastic. I served it on Christmas Eve with a wilted kale salad, and my house guests didn’t even miss the meat from the meal.

Another favorite is Terry Walters’ Grilled Polenta with Mushroom Ragout from the Clean Food cookbook, available for purchase here. Sorry I don’t have an Internet version of the recipe, but maybe Google it?

And, just one more, which is a little out of season but can totally be made on an indoor grill if it’s chilly outside. My favorite recipe for Portobello Mushroom Burgers. It’s all about the marinade!

I guess the moral (morel?) of the story is this: try new things. You might surprise yourself. And if you’re still looking for a New Years Resolution, that might be a good one to try out.

*Chef Samuel Baker is now working at The Betty on Davis in Richmond, VA and you can follow the progress of his food adventures on his Facebook page.

Vegan Meatballs in a Sweet and Spicy Mole Sauce

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Ever since Brittany and I brought home a second place win at the Richmond Vegetarian Festival Food Fight Iron Chef style cooking competition, I’ve been thinking about how to make our vegan nut meat into meatballs. I have to give Brittany credit for introducing me to nut meat, which is basically coarsely ground walnuts, seasoned to taste like ground beef. All alone, nut meat probably isn’t fooling anyone into thinking they’re eating real meat. However, the taste and texture definitely resemble meat when you use this ingredient in tacos, casseroles, and anything with a sauce.

I did some research on nut meatballs (hehe) but wasn’t quite ready to pull the trigger on recipe testing until I settled on a creative sauce. It all came together for me when I planned the next vegetarian beer dinner in the same week that I tasted Xocoveza Mocha Stout. This beer smells remarkably like Mexican hot chocolate, and I could not get enough of the smooth, rich taste when I tried it on draft at The Beer Mongers in Portland, Oregon last month. I was immediately inspired to pair this delicious Mexican Chocolate Stout with Meatballs in a Mole Sauce at our next beer dinner.

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Xocoveza Mocha Stout is a collaboration between Stone Brewing, Cervezeria Insurgente, and home brewer Chris Banker. I’ve tried a few different attempts at a Mexican Chocolate Stout, including Kyle’s own winter 2012 home brew, which was a Mexican chocolate milk stout, as well as some variations from popular microbreweries that have hit the market over the last two years. This is the only one that I have tasted that really nailed the aroma and taste of Mexican hot chocolate with a hint of coffee.

For the food pairing, I wanted to make sure that I brought in the same chili and chocolate flavors in the sauce as well as the meatballs themselves. I used Annette Ramke and Kendall Scott’s Walnut Meat-Less Balls recipe posted on Nava Atlas’ VegKitchen as a base recipe, then I gave it my own twist. I recommend you do the same, swapping spices to get different flavors and to put your own spin on this great base recipe for vegan nut meatballs.

Vegan Meatballs in a Sweet and Spicy Mole Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 cup baby bella mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons wheat germ
  • 3 Tablespoons rolled oats
  • 1 Tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 2 Tablespoons tamari
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Sauce:

  • 2 cups marinara sauce
  • 1/4 cup vegan dark chocolate chips
  • 4 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cocoa powder

Preparation:

  1. In a medium sauce pan, heat oil over medium heat. Saute onions, mushrooms, and garlic for 4-5 minutes, until soft. Set aside to cool.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  3. When cooled, add onions, mushrooms and garlic to a food processor. Add remaining meatball ingredients (walnuts through black pepper) to the food processor and blend until smooth.
  4. Form mixture into small balls and place on cookie sheet. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees F. Uncover, flip meatballs and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
  5. While meatballs are baking, make the mole sauce. Heat all ingredients in medium sauce pan for 10 minutes on low-medium until chocolate is melted and sauce is bubbling. Ladle over meatballs and serve warm.

Fall Sprucing

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For the past few weekends, we’ve been doing some Fall Sprucing. It’s like spring cleaning, except you do it just before fall. I have always thought that fall feels more like a fresh start than spring. This is probably due to the school calendar. The end of the summer turns into the start of the school year, which has always meant new school supplies, new clothes, a fresh haircut, and a fresh start. Even after graduating college, I still feel that the fall is a beginning . . and not just the beginning of the end.

During this time of year, I like to clean up around the house, try out a new hair color, buy school office supplies, shop for new clothing, and rejuvenate any resolutions I made in January that have slipped my mind during the summer months. The fall sprucing this year started with a trip to Bombshell Salon  for a daring new hair color. I expected to get my usual dark chocolate brown, but my hair stylist talked me into a panel of bright red in the front.

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After the hair salon kickoff, I decided to tackle a house project that Kyle and I have meant to take care of for a few weeks. We finally painted our front door a fun color! We have a white house with a white front door, so we have desperately needed a pop of color. After living with several paint chips taped to our front door for a week (sorry, neighbors. . .), we decided on Valspar Green Gecko (6006-8A).

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After the door was painted, we were surprised to find that Kyle had chosen the exact same shade for our door as he had for his iPhone 5c. It’s almost a perfect match! We also installed some modern house numbers, which was a fun adventure to say the least. I think we tried five different drill bits before we found the right size to fit the anchors and posts for these numbers, but finally it is done, and we love it.

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I carried the momentum into Labor Day weekend, when I decided to go after a big house project that I had put off for years. I finally went through every piece of clothing in my closet and dresser and decided what to keep, sell, or donate. Yes, every piece. Including the sock drawer and my stack of denim. I can never bear to part with a pair of jeans, no matter how ratty or ill-fitting. So many memories! I found pairs of flare cut jeans from college, maybe even high school. Did you ever have a pair of these supremely cool Lucky brand jeans?

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For someone who now wears heels once every three months, I have a pretty sizable collection of heels. Pictured here, about a quarter of what I found. That’s right, I had about 50 pairs of heels. If I wore heels one day a week, I could go a year without repeating a pair. And I don’t wear heels anymore.

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But I still kept about 15 pairs! Someday, I might want to wear heels again, and I wouldn’t want to start from scratch. So I may still have a little ways to go before I have a simplified closet, but I did end up with four garbage bags full of perfectly good clothing to donate, just because it’s not my style, I don’t love it, or it doesn’t fit my body exactly how I want it to. If you’re interested in taking the same (very helpful) approach that I did, I highly recommend that you check out How to Organize a Closet You’ll Love.

The final item on the list I have been working for our fall sprucing project is cleaning up our diets. We are so far from perfect on this, but I have been incorporating a lot more home cooked clean eating meals into our weekly meal plan. My favorite cookbook lately has been Clean Food by Terry Walters. Kyle and I have noticed that we feel so much better when we are eating a healthy vegetarian diet with a variety of nutrient sources. It is a lot easier to do this in the summer with an abundance of local fruits and vegetables, so we really have no excuse this month; we’re eating as clean as we can.

If you’re thinking about sprucing up your diet too, check out my new Pinterest board, Healthy Vegetarian Recipes!

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Have a wonderful week, and good luck with your new beginnings as well!

Big Meadows Camping Trip in Shenandoah National Park

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Have you heard that it’s National S’mores Day?

What better day to tell you all about a recent camping trip I took in Shenandoah National Park? A few weeks ago, I planned a trip for six friends to go camping up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I had visited and hiked in the Blue Ridge dozens of times, but I had never camped before. Planning a two-day camping and hiking trip for six was a daunting task, and I was a little nervous that, as the only one out of the group who had never been camping, I was doomed to miss a critical detail and therefore ruin the trip for everyone. So I did a lot of research and planning. If you know me well, you won’t be surprised at all that there were multiple checklists and maps involved, all important information lived in a “camping binder,” with plastic sheet protectors and all, and we packed the car to the roof with essentials and not-so-essentials, “just in case.”

Kyle and I bought a Marmot tent at REI earlier this summer and we were excited to finally put it to good use. The night before we left for our camping trip, we unpacked the tent and set it up in the living room, just to be sure that we had everything we needed and that we wouldn’t look too foolish to the other seasoned campers when we arrived at our campsite.

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I believe the above diagram shows that no one can stand in this tent unless they’re under 5’1”. At first I took the other pictures to mean that the tent would fit two yogis or four mummies, but now I realize that they indicate that the tent will fit four people sleeping and two sitting up. I am new to this camping thing, but I think I’m starting to get it down.

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We arrived at Big Meadows Campground about two hours before sundown on a Friday night. Kyle and I focused on setting up our tent first, and then we started to get dinner ready. Among our team of six, we had a few vegetarians, some vegans, a gluten-free restriction, a nut allergy, and a carb counter. You would think that would present a big challenge, but it really wasn’t that hard to accommodate at all. I made a burrito bar for our first dinner, which worked out really well because each person could make his or her own meal from the options provided. We had low-carb and whole wheat tortillas, black beans, sauteed zucchini, squash, and onions, salsa, sour cream, and cheese.

For dessert, we made s’mores (of course), and created the most amazing campfire snack I have ever seen. Behold. . . the S’moreo.

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Simply twist two halves of an Oreo cookie apart and press a toasted marshmallow between them. For the record, Oreos are vegan. Marshmallows are not, due to the gelatin, unless you buy special vegan marshmallows.

We sat around the campfire the first night, laughing, telling stories, and scaring ourselves about the possibility of black bears crashing our party. We couldn’t believe how cold it was up in the mountains – around 60 degrees at the campsite at 3600 feet of elevation – while it was 75-80 degrees in the valley. Just as the fire started to die down and we began packing up to head to the tents, it started raining.

It poured all night long, hard driving rain, that never let up. We stayed completely dry in our tent, although there was one section on the corner above my head that was not completely taut, so it gathered a pool of water and then dumped a loud, sudden shower off the side of the tent about every twenty minutes all night long. Between the sudden “swoosh” of water right next to my head, jitters about sleeping outside for the first time ever, and weird sounds in the woods that my exhausted brain was convinced were from bears, axe murderers, or axe murderous bears, I hardly slept that first night.

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The next morning, the rain let up a bit and then cleared up completely for our tubing trip on the Shenandoah River. After the cool, rainy night, we second guessed ourselves all morning on whether a tubing trip was the right plan, but when we got to the river, the sun was shining and it was a nice warm 80 degrees outside. The river was cool and refreshing, as were the beverages we packed into our cooler tube. I have gone tubing with Shenandoah River Adventures twice now, and I highly recommend them. We had a great experience!

When we headed back to camp that afternoon, it started raining again, so half of the group worked on setting up a tarp shelter for us to hang out under. The camp store at the Big Meadows Campground stocks a lot of supplies at very reasonable prices. We had brought an extra tarp with us, but we decided to buy a second one at the camp store to make an even larger shelter in case it rained for the next several hours. The other half of the group started washing and chopping vegetables for a giant tray of “hobo meal,” as Al called it.

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Those are vegan hot dogs on the fire, next to a huge foil roasting pan full of potatoes, onion, carrots, zucchini, peppers, squash, salt, pepper, and oil. After about an hour directly over the fire, the “hobo meal” was done, and it was fantastic. Who says you need to have meat to make a hearty meal?

The rain slowed down before bed time that second night. We made more s’mores, left a huge dent in the beer supply, and played games until we were falling asleep in our camp chairs. I slept like a rock that night, no longer worried about homicidal maniacs or bears, and finally comfortable sleeping in a tent. Progress!

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For breakfast both days, we had bagels (toasted over a campfire) with hummus or cream cheese, and fresh fruit. I made a batch of cold brew iced coffee concentrate at home and brought it with us for morning coffees. I don’t drink mine black, so I brought shelf stable milk in Tetra Paks, and on Sunday morning I discovered the joy of Silk chocolate soy milk in iced coffee. A little leftover “hobo meal” stew helped bulk up breakfast on the second day and gave us extra fuel for hiking later that day.

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We headed to the Hawksbill Summit Loop Trail, about five miles north of Big Meadows Campground. Hawksbill Summit is the highest peak of Shenandoah National Park, at 4,049 feet. We accidentally hiked the loop backwards, making a very steep climb straight up to the summit, then meandering back along the Appalachian Trail at a slight downhill grade, with a lot of switchbacks and beautiful scenery. There was a lot of cloud cover all morning so we were not sure how much we would be able to see at the summit.

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When we arrived at the top, it looked like we had reached the end of the world. We were standing in a cloud. It is pretty hard to describe the feeling of looking down off a cliff at nothing but thick white clouds. This picture that Kyle posted to Instagram demonstrates that a picture is worth a thousand words: Al at the Summit.

Within ten minutes of our arrival at the summit, the clouds began to break, and we could see the vast valley below.

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There were these amazing little succulents growing out of the rocks at the top.

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Adrienne took a yoga break while we took in the panoramic views.

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Having the clouds break right as we reached the summit was a great end to a trip that was perfectly timed. . . no thanks to all of my meticulous planning. It was overcast and rainy for most of the time we were there, except for three distinct and brief times that the clouds cleared up and the sun shone down on us: when we first arrived and set up our tents, when we ventured out on our tubing trip, and when we reached Hawksbill Summit. These were the only three times we really needed the sun, and somehow it all worked out. There is no way I could have planned that.

At a time that I am reminded how much I am not in control, these brief moments of sunshine and intermittent rain made me even more grateful for the opportunity to explore all of the natural beauty we have in Virginia, just a two-hour drive from home.

You know it was a good trip when you haven’t even made it off the mountain yet before everyone starts asking, “when can we do it again?”

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Vegology Branching Out, from Home Cooking to Competitions and Catering

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I started this blog four years ago to help me get out of my comfort zone in the kitchen, and to inspire others to do the same. From trying out new ingredients for the first time, to testing strange cooking techniques, to doing vegetarian cooking demonstrations, to traveling to distant places just to see what is going on in other food communities, I have stepped out of my comfort zone in a lot of ways, with mixed results. In four years, I have learned a lot about cooking and eating, and I have further developed my food philosophy as well. I do not reflect often, so although I have grown in a lot of ways since June 2010, I still see myself as a newbie, learning as much as I can, from people with more experience and different perspectives than me.

My initial reaction when I was asked earlier this year to participate in the Richmond Vegetarian Festival Food Fight was, “who, me?!” The Food Fight is an Iron Chef style cooking competition, in which three competitors must prepare three vegan dishes in one hour, using only the limited pantry ingredients and equipment available at each of their stations. The dishes must feature a secret ingredient, which is revealed seconds before the clock starts.

The invitation came in a tweet, and my immediate response upon receiving the Twitter notification on my phone was to look over both shoulders and wonder if there is another Vegology out there for whom this invitation is meant. I ignored the message, assuming it had been broadcast to a long list of people who would jump on the opportunity.

When the organizers (from Citizen, one of my favorite lunch spots in RVA) followed up with me, I realized the first message had not been an error. I was still in hand therapy and could barely cook for myself at the time. What I could do in the kitchen and at work, I was really slow at. The competition was about a month away and I figured it would give me a good goal for therapy to get my hands and wrists mostly functional by the end of June.

So I recruited a partner, my delightful and talented friend Brittany from Eating Bird Food (read her wonderful post about the competition here), and I agreed to do it. We do not cook fancy or complicated food and we do not spend hours perfecting our plating techniques or our knife skills, so we expected to come in dead last. We were determined to make food that tasted good and to have a ton of fun doing it. And that is almost exactly what happened.

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The secret ingredient was fennel, one that we had not anticipated at all. After a quick strategy session, we started grabbing ingredients from the pantry, chopping, blending, and roasting (in a toaster oven!). Our first dish was raw spiralized summer squash “noodles” in a fennel and basil pesto sauce, with pan roasted red peppers and a sprig of fennel on top. We had a lot of fun putting this together, and twirling the squash “pasta” into little nests on each plate.

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We worked really well together, and just focused on the cooking while we worked. I tuned out the audience, the host who narrated and entertained during the whole thing, and all of the comments from the judges and other competitors. There were definitely a few times that Karri Peifer, the host, put the microphone in my face and I had not even realized she was in our kitchen or had asked me a question until that black bulb was right in front of my mouth. I doubt that any of my answers were very impressive – sorry Karri!

Our focus paid off when our vegan ground beef, or “nut meat” came out perfectly. Our second dish was a nut meat lettuce wrap taco with a fresh corn and fennel salad on top. The spicy “meat” was countered by the sweet fresh corn, and I thought it tasted pretty good. The judges said they couldn’t detect the fennel, which we had included in the “meat” as well as the corn salad, but our proportions must have been off, or the strong flavors of other ingredients drowned out the fennel flavor.

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Our final dish, which was described by one judge as “homey” was a Nourish Bowl with jasmine rice, black beans, roasted sweet potato and fennel, and pan roasted red peppers, finished with a peanut sauce and Thai basil garnish. All three dishes were ones that any home cook could easily throw together. I’m not sure if “homey” was meant as a compliment or not, but I took from it that we cooked our food, which was exactly what we had set out to do!

Each duo was given a score out of 240 total possible points, and dishes were evaluated on taste, presentation, innovation/uniqueness, and use of the secret ingredient. Our team (Team VegBird) came in second place, and the host announced that we were within two points of the winners! The winning team was Kate Koyiades and Mackenzie Monday from 821 Café. Yes, that’s right, two points away (out of 240) from professional chefs. What?! We were very pleased with the results.

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We celebrated with a beer from Ardent Craft Ales, a new brewery that is located in Scott’s Addition, right down the street from the festival. I would be lying if I said that was it. Then we took the party over to Hardywood for another beer and some tacos from the Boka Tako Truck.

Riding high after our second place finish, I packed my car the next day for a road trip to Asheville, NC for the grand opening of my sister’s ballroom dance studio, Rococo Ballroom. We spent a week putting the finishing touches on the studio space and getting the word out for the grand opening and ribbon cutting.

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I spent my days handing out flyers, hanging posters around town, writing press releases, shopping for décor, and cleaning impossibly large windows and mirrors. I squeezed in three classes at Asheville Yoga Center (so wonderful), and at night I ate a ton of the best vegetarian food Asheville has to offer. To see all of our great eats, check out the #vegologyeatsasheville hashtag on Instagram.

After the great experience I had branching out at the Vegan Food Fight, I did not hesitate to say yes when I was asked to do all of the food for the Rococo Ballroom grand opening party the following Saturday. I prepared food all day in my sister Meghan’s kitchen, packed it into containers within a giant cooler, plated when I got to the studio, and then replenished from the same cooler throughout the party. My “catering kitchen” on-site was a gigantic cooler with a pack of gloves, a cutting board and knife, and a few bags of ice, all located on a sidewalk outside the back door of the studio. The kitchen got soaked during a sudden downpour halfway through the party. I adapted. The food turned out pretty great!

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The appetizers included caprese salad bites, which were basically tomato, mozzarella, and basil, skewered and marinated in a balsamic viniagrette, and cucumber cups filled with jalapeno cilantro hummus, topped with chili powder and pimentos.

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We also enjoyed watermelon, feta and mint bruschetta, which was a nice summery treat.

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Dessert (not pictured) was a tower of mini cupcakes in gold foil wrappers to match the regal décor of the studio. We also had a cheese tray and plenty of wine, which I wrapped in custom Rococo Ballroom labels just for the party. The selection  included Waltz White (Pepperwood Pinot Grigio), Rumba Red (Castle Rock Pinot Noir), and Bolero Bubbly (Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut Rose Cava).

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After pulling off a week of helping to open a business, bookended by a vegan Iron Chef competition and my first catering gig, I needed a glass of Bolero Bubbly wine to relax!

In retrospect, the marathon week was a great way to celebrate Vegology’s fourth birthday. It definitely boosted my confidence and pushed me to ask myself the question, “what’s next?” proving once again that it’s sometimes a very good thing to push yourself out of your comfort zone and try something you’ve never done before. It could turn out great or it could turn out to be a disaster learning experience, and either way at least you can say you did it!

5 Vegetarian Recipes for Cinco de Mayo

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Cinco de Mayo will be here next week. Do you know what you’re making for dinner yet? Nah, me neither.

Luckily, I consider tacos to be a major food group, so I have plenty of vegetarian taco and burrito recipes here on Vegology. I never grow tired of coming up with new combinations, and Kyle and I have some variation of tacos for dinner on a weekly basis. I love them so much that I cannot possibly convey to you how extremely excited I was the first time I was linked to by F*%$ Yeah Vegan Tacos. I have several taco recipes here under the tacos tag, and some other fun Mexican inspired recipes in this post to help you plan for your Cinco de Mayo celebration. The first five recipes are Vegology originals, then there is a bonus Serious Eats recipe at the end for elotes, which are my current obsession.

Enjoy!

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Try out these MexiKali wraps that add a healthy dose of leafy greens to your standard black bean burrito. Plus there is a onus recipe for my Chipotle-style cilantro lime brown rice in that post as well.

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Embrace Springtime and make a batch of Radish Salsa to tide you over until fresh tomatoes are in season. Serve with corn chips, pita chips, over tacos and nachos, or just eat it plain like a salad!

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These Cilantro Lime Seitan Tacos feature a great vegetarian meat substitute that, as the old cliché goes, “tastes just like chicken!”

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If you’re still experiencing winter weather and want to curl up with some fall and winter veggies, try these Spicy Cauliflower Tacos with Sunchoke Hash. It is amazing how much grated and sautéed cauliflower can resemble meat when seasoned the right way.

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For a sweet and springy dessert, try these Strawberry Goat Cheese and Black Pepper Empanadas, which make for a unique and tasty end to your Cinco de Mayo meal.

Bonus recipe!

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My current obsession is Mexican street corn, and this recipe from Serious Eats is perfect! Make this one as soon as you can get your hands on some fresh corn this year. You will not regret it.

To see what I’m cooking this weekend (and to get sneak peek photos of test recipes like the grilled corn above), make sure you are following Vegology on Instagram and Twitter.