It’s currently a bit sparse, but it does include the menu, some resources, the address and hours of operation. This is useful, because I’m sure nobody likes showing up at a place to eat only to find that they’re closed!
So bookmark it, and check it out periodically for news and announcements.
One of the greatest things about being a vegan is exploring all the delicious food available to you. Increasingly, there are options available in restaurants, at corner shops, and at farmers’ markets. But what about those days when you’re on the run, or you’re out for a pint at a less than vegan-friendly pub and you find yourself with a roaring case of the hungries?
Being a healthy, happy vegan, I am a high energy sort of person, the kind who has trouble sitting still for long periods of time. But as my partner and friends and family will attest, if I don’t get in enough foodies my energy and mood flatline and I turn into a non-reactive zombie woman (vegan zombie: “Graaaains, graaains!”).
This, my friends, is where Purse Food comes in (Murse Food for those gentlemen who carry a man bag). It’s become a running gag amongst my friends that I have a constant stash of snacks hidden away in the folds of my roomy Mat and Nat bag, always ready to go for when I find myself peckish in a situation with few vegan options. A tidy stock of Purse Food is one of the greatest tools in a vegan ninja’s arsenal of tricks.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not an advocate of going out with friends to places where the “vegan option” on the menu is an iceburg lettuce salad, and part the fun of strengthening your vegan values and lifestyle is choosing to support places that support us. And I am lucky to hang out with nice people who take into account my veganity and more often than not like to go to places where we can all find something good to eat. But it’s good to be armed for situations that are less than perfect, and being an easy-going, always-prepared person gets you far in the battle to show the world how relaxed and non-complicated being a vegan really is.
Stocking your bag with a selection of goodies means you never have to worry about what to do when you feel your energy dropping in the middle of a busy day at work, when you’re stuck in a meeting, or when you’re out running errands. It also means you can choose to have healthy things stashed, so you don’t have to settle for processed crap from the 7-11 or stale, questionable baked goods at conferences and meetings.
A good place to start your harvest of Purse Food is the local health food store. A few suggestions to get you going: Raid the bulk food section for goodies, such as tamari almonds, sesame sticks, and dried fruit (mango is my current fixation). There’s lots of other items to suit the cause; these are just a few of my stand-bys. Then meander over to the snack shelves and snag some Lara bars and vegan jerky. I also found my new favourite stash at the Hartman’s Your Independent grocery store on Somerset: wasabi cashews (WASABI CASHEWS! So. Good.)
Cut up veggies and fresh fruit can work, too, though they’re better for times when you know you’ll be eating them within a few hours (finding annihilated fruit in the bottom of your bag days later = fail). Then head on home, divvy your finds into small containers or resealable bags, and venture forth confidently to rock your own vegan world.
I was feeling in the mood to be a bit fancy, so on Christmas Eve day I made a last-minute reservation online to go to ZenKitchen that evening with my partner.
As soon as we went in we were greeted by Dave, who exclaimed, “How nice to see you! I didn’t realize you were coming in tonight!” There’s nothing quite like a warm welcome to set a good tone for the evening. Later Chef Caroline came out and said almost the exact same thing, so that must make it true!
We ordered our favorite appetizer, a tapas plate with Zen salad rolls with Thai peanut sauce, dengaku tofu skewers, house pickles, kale and handcut potato chips. I love love love the tofu skewers, and saved mine for last. It was, as usual, wonderful. Personally, if there were an entree of appetizer that consisted entirely of the apple tofu skewers I would order it in a heartbeat. (Caroline?) The Zen salad rolls are also tasty, but since I really hate mushrooms I end up pulling them out (as discretely as possible of course!) and making a bit of a mess. I also opted to have warm apple cider to drink, which was a nice toasty treat on a cold night. We were treated to two amuse bouche items, some locally baked bread with white bean and butternut squash dip, and a second one, the description of which I can’t recall (but see the bottom for a photo!)
As is the norm at ZenKitchen, the server explained and offered the Four Course Chef’s Tasting Menu, but as someone who’s filled with a bit of anxiety over blind meal options I stuck to the menu. For my main course, I ordered the ravioli filled with pesto-cheese, with smoky tomato sauce and roasted vegetables. I’ve had it a few times now and it’s always delicious. It’s warm comfort food, and fairly filling. Yves had the Panko-crusted seitan medallions with a cranberry-teriyaki sauce, ancient grain pilaf, and Asian slaw. He was actually too full to finish it entirely, so I helped him out a bit.
Because he was full Yves passed on dessert, but I had been salivating over the mere thought of the Spicy Mexican chocolate cake with warm chocolate sauce, creme anglaise, and berry coulis all afternoon, so I would not be deterred. I have to be honest, I can’t really tell you if the cake was extraordinary or not; it was so very smothered in the divine warm chocolate fudge sauce that it didn’t really matter. I’m inclined to say it was good, but frankly that sauce is so decadent it could make cardboard appealing. Suddenly and irrationally Yves became very hungry and I had to share some, but I still got my fill. It was, as always, phenomenal. Every time I have it I am inspired to create my own spicy chocolate desserts at home, and true to form within 48 hours I was baking Mexican chocolate cupcakes. But they don’t compare, and I anxiously await the next time I can partake in Chef Caroline’s unreasonably delicious concoction.
After playing with the really cool sink fixture in ZenKitchen’s bathroom I returned to the table to find more chocolate; ZenKitchen’s homemade chocolate truffles. A perfect end to a delightful meal.
We have been very fortunate to be able to anchor our two Veg Fests with top notch speakers on what we consider to be the key reasons to live a veg lifestyle: Health, Environment, and Animal Rights.
Unfortunately some of our volunteers were among those who were not able to see the speakers make their presentations (that includes Corrie and I, the event organizers). There were also many others who either couldn’t make it to the event, or couldn’t tear themselves away from the excitement happening upstairs.
But there’s good news: The NCVA now has each of the speaker’s presentations online! You can download or stream them here.
Just to recap…
In year one, 2009, we had the good fortune of welcoming Brenda Davis R.D., who is an author of seven books and one of the most well-known experts wordwide on vegan and vegetarian health. She gave two informative and compelling talks. Our presentations that year were rounded out by Montreal’s Yasmin Fudakowska Gow, a yogi and environmental activist who participated in a 2008 Climate Change awareness tour of 21 university campuses across Canada sponsored by the David Suzuki Foundation, and Jason Halvorson, an animal right activist whose activism has made waves from coast to coast.
In year two we had some real heavy heavy hitters: Gene Baur, founder of Farm Sanctuary, Dr. Michael Greger M.D., a physician, author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues including veganism, and Jae Steele, a Toronto-based registered holistic nutritionist living in Toronto and cookbook authour.
So be sure to listen to them, and share them with your friends and family! And stay tuned for news on Veg Fest ’11, which is being held May 1 at the Glebe Community Centre.
I don’t know exactly why I decided to name this post Mama Africa. It just seemed right somehow.
Perhaps it’s because the food at Sunday’s East Africa Meetup was so fabulous that I want to cast off my Pol-Irish-Canadian identity and reconnect with my African roots, distant though they may be.
Perhaps it’s because I associate “Mama” with family and our record turnout of veg-minded folk game me a warm familial, “Yes, we can change the world through unbridled eating” kind of vibe.
Or perhaps it’s because I ate so much that I subsequently appeared to be several months pregnant.
Whatever the case, Sunday’s meetup was a roaring success. There were about 30 people, and local Ethiopian food expert Shaun confirmed that the food that day was particularly fine. Being an idiot, I forgot my camera, so I can’t provide any shots of it. That’s OK, though, because, frankly, Ethiopian food tastes a hell of a lot better than it looks.
Luckily, Shaun had his iphone handy and was able to take this shot of the group:
Note Neil and I with our contraband spoons. We bad! (Just kidding, they offered spoons to the injera-impaired)
In addition to the amazing food, the company was awesome and the conversation lively. I refused to break JJ out of prison, learned about Sudbury loons, shamelessly plugged the radio show Animal Voices (animalvoices.ca!) and scoffed at the folly that is flavoured beer.
I did make a bit of a faux pas when I told a pair of Sudburians that their city looks like the moon. But in my defense, I thought it was a compliment. Like getting to live in space but without having to spend a lot of money or learn math.
Anyway, not much else to say except thanks to all attendees for continuing to make the NCVA meetups a success. They just keep getting bigger and better! I guess this will be the last one of the year, but Green Earth’s monthly Sunday brunch is not far off…
Although I’ve been a vegetarian for more than 25 years, my mom and dad have still not ventured into cooking veg*an holiday food. So every year, I take a tofu ‘turkey’ to Montreal, frozen, and heat it up when they’re cooking their meal. It travels well, and it’s nutritious, tasty and festive.
You’ll probably have to spend some time at the store getting all the spices and other ingredients, but assembling the ‘turkey’ doesn’t take long. It needs to be made over three days, and takes about 15 minutes each day.
Enjoy! Serves about four people. Double the recipe to serve eight.
Homemade tofu ‘turkey’
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 large onion, chopped finely
2/3 cup celery, diced
1/2 cup mushrooms, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sage
1 teaspoon marjoram
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon savory
1/2 teaspoon rosemary
1 teaspoon celery seed
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/12 cups vegan herb stuffing (or use bread crumbs: crumble half a baguette that’s a few days old and dry)
Saute the onion, celery and mushrooms. When soft, add the garlic and spices. Cook for five minutes. Add herb stuffing or breadcrumbs, and mix well. When cool, roll into a ball, compress, cover with plastic film, and put in freezer until frozen.
1 pound firm tofu
1 pound silken tofu
1 teaspoon sage
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon savory
1/4 teaspoon rosemary
Crumble firm tofu and add silken tofu: mix with hands. Add spices. Put a couple of 20-inch pieces of plastic film in a cross on a plate, and put half of tofu mix on the plastic.
Take stuffing from freezer, remove plastic film, and put on top of tofu mix on plastic. Pour rest of tofu mix over the stuffing ball, so it covers the stuffing completely. Make into a ball, press down on the ball so there’s a base (so it doesn’t roll around), wrap it in the plastic and put back in the freezer until frozen.
1/4 cup oil
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon of vegetable base
1 tablespoon orange juice or syrup
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
Mix, and put into a little glass container for traveling.
Cooking: Heat oven to 375 degrees. Thaw and put tofu turkey into baking pan, and pour half of basting mixture over it. Cook for 30 minutes. Add rest of basting mixture and cook for another 15 minutes.
From Yves Veggie Cuisine to Tofurky to Gardein to Sol to the offerings in the President’s Choice Blue Menu line, the variety of mock meats in supermarkets has exploded in recent years. Ottawa’s Chinatown is a fantastic resource for lovers of mock meats. This is the first in a series of posts to introduce readers to the treasures they can find in Chinatown and meals that can be made with them.
Our first stop: Phuoc Loi on the northeast corner of Somerset and Booth. If you’re driving, you’ll need to find street parking or use the pay parking lot at the southeast corner of Somerset and Lebreton. Head to the freezer section in the back right corner of the store.
You’re looking for this:
It may look “grim”, in the words of my big sister, but this is the best mock ham I have tried. A caution to vegans: I have seen similarly shaped mock ham that includes whey or egg — be sure to read the ingredients.
What can you do with it? A few ideas…
Slice it thinly, sear each side briefly in a hot frying pan, and put it in sandwiches.
Slice it thickly, glaze it with a mixture of maple syrup and mustard, and bake in the oven.
Cube it and add it to a tofu scramble, as suggested in this previous post.
Or, try this recipe for Ham & Cheese Biscuits. These biscuits proved very popular at a potluck. They will also cause any dogs who happen to be nearby to cluster around your legs and stare at you hopefully.
Mix 2 cups of flour, 3 tsp. of baking powder, and ¾ tsp. of salt.
Cut ¾ of a stick of Earth Balance margarine into small pieces and blend it into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or with your fingers. (A stick is equivalent to ½ cup.)
Add a splash of vinegar to ¾ cup of soy milk, and mix with the dry ingredients to form a dough.
Knead the dough briefly, folding it over no more than 5 times. This will give the finished biscuits nice flaky layers inside.
Flatten the dough to about ½ inch thick. Use a sharp knife to slice it into squares.
Bake at 450°F for 13 minutes.
The photo of the biscuits has one pulled apart to show the flaky texture (and delicious bits of mock ham and cheese) inside.
I have also found the mock ham at New 168 Market on the southwest corner of Somerset and Breezehill (just west of the O-Train tracks). They’re closed for renovations right now, but when they reopen they might be more convenient for those doing errands by car, as they have a small parking lot just west of the store.
Next instalment: vegan “wings” that are way better than the real thing.
Sorry for the dorky post title but I an in bit of a food coma. A food slash beer slash Cocoa Camino almond butter chocolate bar that I ill-advisedly bought when I popped into Herb and Spice afterwards for eye makeup remover coma.
You see, I have just come from my office Christmas party.
It was actually a bit of a nail-biter for me at first, since I suggested the restaurant. I picked the Imperial because I knew that, while it caters to a mostly omni crowd, it has at least one vegan entrée. I admit that I was mildly concerned that the food and/or service would stink and that the two dozen public servants with whom I work would react by blaming the vegan.
My fears were assuaged pretty quickly, however, as polite and efficient servers fed us alcohol. Those fears evaporated completely when our food arrived.
Neil and I had the Southwest Vegan Black Bean Burger. It was simply presented – Neil’s with fries and mine with salad. I know you’re already thinking that I probably ate his fries and yes I did and so what? I do apologise, however, for also sharing his fries with an adjacent female colleague who also ordered the salad in a moment of self-delusion. That was a bit much even for me.
And as it happens, the fries were the best part of the meal. Seriously – they were awesome. I will pause for a moment to remember their crispy fabulousness…
Now what…um, the salad dressing was really nice – some sort of Asian inspired concoction. Unfortunately, the salad itself was profoundly bitter – I only wound up eating a quarter of it.
The burger itself was only pretty good. It was a little on the mushy side. The bun was a tad crunchy (over-toasted, I think, rather than stale). Still, good enough to attract me back for a second go. Especially given just how totally charming the Imperial is, with its vintage posters advertising ultraviolent 70’s B-movies and the weird Ms. Pac Man sign above the bar.
Of course, I can’t speak to the omni options. I didn’t taste them and didn’t make inquiries of those who did – being somewhat disinclined to hear about how tender or nicely spiced the cows and pigs and fish were. Still, the general air of satisfaction that emanated from my colleagues suggests that The Imperial is a safe place to bring your omni pals.
So thumbs up to the Imperial. I should also note that they have a 3-option Sunday brunch and that one of said options is vegan. I’ve had it several times now and, as clichéd as it sounds, each time was better than the last. The vegan meal includes pancakes, beans baked in a tomato, toast and pan fried potatoes. Not cheap but, well, god hates a tightwad, doesn’t he?
Thanks to everyone who came out to tonight’s potluck and cookie exchange.
We got off to a bit of a slow start. The potluck officially began at 6:30, but by that time there were only about 10 people there. More slowly trickled in, however, and by 7 or so, I’d say we had a good 40 people.
Highlights of the evening? Hmmm….I got to try vegan mac and cheese for the first time. Well, the homemade stuff anyway. I made a boxed version once and Neil was so traumatized with revulsion that I’ve never attempted to make it again. Neil, of course, wouldn’t try it – even when I told him that Salad in a Steakhouse had made it (sorry, David, I started calling you that and now I can’t stop).
Neil’s faux steak and stout pie, of course, was a big hit. It’s even better now he’s making it with the Nelakee mushroom beef instead of the rather gelatinous PC fake beef strips.
Oh, and of course Pamela’s awesome curry was, well, awesome. It earned more than one delighted exclamation of “fake shrimp!”
There was a dramatic late run on the buffet table when it was discovered that late arrival Harpreet had clandestinely added some homemade potato pancakes to the buffet table. A big shout out to Harpreet for bringing something so awesome on her first time out, by the way!
On the weird side, the dessert table this time out was filled entirely with apples. Seriously, there were something like five separate bags of apples, and no other desserts.
Well, there was also a bag of oranges and a couple of things that straddled the line between sweet dessert and savoury side dish, but mostly it was apples. Very weird how that can happen sometimes. At the September potluck, for example, it was all desserts. There were maybe two savoury dishes and the rest was cakes, cookies, pies…
That was pretty great actually.
Of course, it was quite providential that the dessert pickings were slim, since today was the day of the cookie exchange. We sold quite a few 6-cookie bags to our dessert deprived attendees.
Who made that fabulous shortbread, by the way – these little squares with the fork holes?
Because they may well be the most fabulous things I have ever eaten in my life.
Anyway, thanks again all. Hope to see you at the East Africa Meetup!
Silver medal at Gold Medal Plates just the latest accomplishment
Since opening in June 2009, ZenKitchen has quickly established itself as not just one of the hottest vegan spots around, but one of the hottest tables in all of Ottawa.
It’s not only the delicious food that is noteworthy, but also the way that Chef Caroline Ishii has contributed to bringing vegan cuisine to a mainstream audience. On any given day its tables are filled primarily by omnivores. While I wish everyone was vegan, every vegan meal that’s eaten is one less meal that involves the use and abuse of animals, and ZenKitchen has certainly done its part to reduce the number of animals being consumed in Ottawa.
ZenKitchen has received a lot of press and accolades for its innovation, including a 12-part television series called The Restaurant Adventures of Caroline and Dave that aired on the W Network last winter. But it hasn’t gone to their heads.
“All the attention from the media is great: it helps bring in new customers, and that means more people accepting animal-free cuisine as part of their everyday diet,” says Chef Caroline Ishii. “Dave (her life and business partner) and I see ourselves as a small, family-run restaurant. We struggle – every day – with the need to keep our food quality consistent, to develop new menu items, to pay our bills. We’re really surprised when someone says that we’re food celebrities or whatever. We see ourselves as a couple of naive restaurateurs doing our best to offer tasty food, to keep to our environmental, vegan and health values, and to make ends meet.”
They recently received another boost when Caroline was invited to participate in the annual “Gold Medal Plates” competition in Ottawa on Nov. 16. Gold Medal Plates is a celebration of Canadian Excellence in cuisine, wine, the arts and athletic achievement, that occurs in eight Canadian cities. It features superb wines and the premier chefs in each city, paired with Canadian Olympic and Paralympic athletes, in a competition to crown a gold, silver and bronze medal culinary team in each city, and subsequently nation-wide.
Remarkably, Caroline was one of the first female chefs ever to be invited to participate in the competition. She was also the first vegan cuisine chef. She was one of ten local chefs invited last spring.
“Ottawa has had a number of excellent women chefs. However, women chefs haven’t always had the “star” profile that male chefs have achieved. I hardly think of myself in that category, so no one was more shocked when I was invited to the Gold Medal Plates competition,” Chef Caroline says. “I am incredibly proud and honoured to be one of the first women chefs invited to the Ottawa competition and the first vegetarian/vegan chef invited in the history of the competition in Canada. I’ve learned that commercial kitchens are pretty much a man’s domain, and it isn’t easy bringing a feminine perspective to either the food or the way a kitchen is run. But I think it’s that very femininity and passion that makes my food stand out.”
And not only did she participate, she won them over, taking the event’s silver medal, in an event that typically favours heavy usage of cream and animal bodies.
The dish? Start with a little kale, sautéed and seasoned with a plum-kombu vinaigrette. On top of that sits a polenta cake, crispy outside and creamy inside. The polenta is topped with a thin disk of red pepper aspic. Add a teaspoon of fermented nut cheese, bruléed with a torch, and then place a “cigar” of more nut cheese wrapped in fried and smoked yuba (the skin that forms when cooking soya milk). A chile-mushroom sauce is swirled from the base of the polenta across the plate, and sautéed exotic mushrooms from Le Coprin are added to it. Three dots of spicy passila chile sauce finish the plate.
The ingredients – nut cheese, yuba, vegan aspic – all offered something new to most of the judges, and there was a range of textures, from crispy to chewy to creamy, tastes and colours. The chile sauce and aspic were bright red elements against the yellow polenta and brown mushrooms.
This may not be something to try at home!
“All together, the dish was very complex, but very interesting , I think. I was inspired by a zen garden when I created the plate,” Chef Ishii explains. “I created a dish I was proud to serve – beautiful, interesting and delicious – which is all I could do.”
It’s easy to hope that this could represent a change in thinking amongst Ottawa diners. “Throughout the evening, people kept telling us that they had heard our table was a “must” to visit. And a number of cooks from the NAC and other teams stopped by to try the yuba cigar and were really interested by it,” says Chef Ishii. “The judging wasn’t about which ingredients were used, but the totality of the dish itself – presentation, flavour and texture. And that’s what we see every day at ZenKitchen – omnivorous diners who come to our restaurant because they like the food, not because of what we do or don’t serve. I believe it expresses a sophistication and progressiveness in Ottawa’s food scene – the willingness to see beyond the ingredients and believe that good food is good food.”
So what’s next for Ottawa’s hottest meal ticket, which also happens to be vegan? They’re offering take-out now, and doing a bit more catering. “We’re also trying to develop some new products for take-out and retail. Eventually, we’d like to move into a slightly bigger space, but that might be a long time coming and would be dependent on investors,” Chef Ishii says.
For now, they’re simply focusing on the restaurant and ensuring the food and service are at the level they want. There are also some special events being planned: two seatings at New Year’s Eve, a Winemaker’s Dinner with Ravine Winery’s Shauna White on February 9, and of course Valentine’s Day!
And who knows, maybe ZenKitchen will be invited back to Gold Medal Plates next year!