July 28, 2013

Turks + Caicos . 2013

Speaking of my birthday...we celebrated it (and our anniversary) in Turks + Caicos again this year. This was our 7th time visiting and each time we find something new. A new island and beach for us - this is a gorgeous beach on Middle Caicos. It's the most beautiful beach I've ever seen hands down.

And, we discovered a new-to-us Mexican restaurant. This is a huge deal because Mexican is one of my favorite cuisines. Somewhere offers really great vegetable tacos and awesome guacamole, among other veggie options. And it's located right on the beach.

Birthday Cake

My birthday was over two months ago, but going through some of my pictures tonight, I realized I didn't post any pictures of my birthday cake. My husband ordered me a Lemon Vanilla cake from Babycakes - vegan and gluten free.

Wasn't it gorgeous?

July 24, 2013

Paul McCartney + Vegan Garlic Dill Potato Chips

In May, Heath and I saw Paul McCartney in Brooklyn (at the Barclays Center). We were with friends who had a suite, which was stocked with McClure's Garlic Dill Pickle potato chips. They were soooo good. It was all I had for dinner, but I was perfectly happy with that. They also served a blueberry limeade that was outrageously good. 

McClure's makes all kinds of great pickles. And I love that their potato chips are vegan - no milk powder - woo hoo!

It was an amazing show by fellow vegetarian, Sir Paul. Blackbird is one of my favorite Beatle songs. 

July 13, 2013


On our last night living in Chicago (this past January), my husband and I decided to try for last minute Alinea reservations. Alinea has been on my to-eat list since we moved to Chicago, it's in the molecular gastronomy category (think liquid nitrogen and centrifuges). It's definitely a splurge (we decided to eat in for the next month) but it was so worth it. 

They normally take reservations for several months out, however, if you like them on facebook, you can see when they offer last minute tables. We were extremely lucky to score a table that evening.

And yes, they will do a full vegan menu upon request.

I'm going to do my best to describe each dish, but this is in no way a comprehensive list of ingredients. There were so many things going on, I didn't get a chance to take it all in. Also, they completely change their menu every few months. 

When we arrived, we walked through a hallway filled with pine trees, a really great sensory experience. We were greeted with hot chocolate for my husband and reduced mulled wine for me (the alcohol was cooked out and the flavor was mellow but still perfectly rich) and allowed to look in on the kitchen...

We started with a glass straw filled with fruits, microgreens and a very tasty liquid, sitting in a large chunk of ice. We were instructed to take one large slurp to get the full effect. I'm not sure exactly what was inside, but it was fruity and sweet and delicious.

Next, we were presented with a tray full of kelp. It smelled so good, so fresh and salty and in winter a very welcome change. Here's what I caught from the very lengthy description...daikon, vegetable pudding with roasted red pepper and oyster leaf.

There were four different bites on this tray - each was unique and delicious, but the smell of the kelp was my favorite part. 

Then it was onto one of my favorites...Thai banana, kaffir lime, sea salt foam and cucumber mixed with bits of ice. The textures were so unique and the flavors so tropical and fresh. I wish I could describe this - it was so salty, yet light and refreshing and very complex. 

Then, wakame, avocado, popcorn sauce and baby radish greens. This was so earthy, buttery and rich.

Hen of the woods mushroom soup with puffed rice cereal followed - this was one of the best soups I've had and I'm not even a huge mushroom fan. The consume was left on the side to be mixed with the liquid so it was super concentrated and flavorful.

Hot potato/Cold potato - I actually first saw this dish on the Food Network. Alton Brown raved about it. It came out so quickly and we were told it was a time sensitive dish, so I did not get a picture. But I did find a lovely image online...

The dish is served in a wax bowl with a hot potato, cold potato soup (or something like it), butter (vegan for me) and chive. I have to admit, I've never been that into truffles or truffle oil, but it's scarily growing on me. Truffle or no truffle, this was such a great bite. You pull the pin out of the wax so that everything combines and just take one big bite. 

Another favorite...a large plate full of different flavors, paired with roasted root vegetables to create your own concoction. It was so beautiful and I got to try some really stellar flavors, flavored salts, dried fruits, nuts, a chalk-like rosemary oil, and all kinds of flavored gels.

The truffle explosion was exactly that - it was a bit much for me (see truffle note above), but if you love truffle, this would be the highlight for you. Even though it was a whole lot of truffle, I appreciated it. A truffle liquid was encased inside of a romaine leaf with a black truffle sitting on top. It was wonderfully salty, which I quite liked.

Then it was onto turnips with turnip foam, ramps and fried basil. Again, very complex and earthy, with really great textures. If you've never had fried basil, seek it out. I don't love basil, but when it's fried the flavors relax and the texture is light and crisp.

In between the savory and sweet dishes, we were offered a cleansing palette full of five different takes on ginger...

Then, the sweet courses - the first consisted of carrot sorbet, banana ice cream made with rice milk, rice milk foam, edible flowers, a vegan marshmallow cream atop a lovely citrus herb tea sitting in the bottom of the glass vessel, to be drunk through a metal straw. There's no way to explain how delicious the tea was. When I think citrus tea, it sounds so basic. This was anything but basic. It was bright and elegant.

The second dessert course came out as balloons. Completely edible balloons - the string and all. The flavor was green apple and the balloon was filled with helium. The idea is to kiss the balloon to burst it and at the same time suck in the helium :) This was so fun and a great idea to not take your food or yourself too seriously. It was ridiculously fun.

 This lovely metal pin is how they anchored the balloon.

For the final course, a chef will come out and prepare the dish right on your table (no plates). Liquid nitrogen is poured into a chocolate sphere, and while that settles, the chef beautifully arranges several kinds of fruit purees around the sphere. When he's finished, he cracks the sphere and everything explodes onto the table. You're left with bits of frozen goodness, cotton candy, chocolate and fruit. It was so much fun to eat and the textures were crazy together (in a very good crazy way).

The couple next to us had their dessert just as we were having our 2nd or 3rd savory course, and we couldn't help but stop and stare when Grant Achatz (owner and head chef) came out to prepare their dessert.

This was truly an amazing experience and I enjoyed every second of it. Every detail is spot on and so well thought out. I mean come on, edible balloons filled with helium. How much better does it get?

P.S. Alinea is owned by the same people as Next, which I just posted on for their all vegan menu. 

July 7, 2013

Next . Vegan

About a month ago, Heath and I had the great pleasure of getting Next tickets. Next is a restaurant in Chicago that changes its menu completely every few months. And each change has a theme. The current theme is vegan. That means the entire menu is vegan for everyone...not just on special request. And Next is certainly not a vegan restaurant. So...when I heard they'd be having a vegan theme, I watched their facebook page very patiently to see when tickets would go on sale. (They have a ticket system, as opposed to a reservation system). After several very frustrating failed attempts, I finally got tickets for a day when were planning to be in Chicago for work. Our very good friends Susan and Todd joined us (Susan is vegan and co-writes Fried Tofu). 

I am going to try very hard to explain the ingredients in each dish, but they were so elaborate and unique, that my descriptions are just the highlights. 

The first bite was a frozen baked potato, with chives and I believe some kind of truffle.

Then, an avocado puree, browned with a blowtorch, with kale, passion fruit, yerba, and pineapple.

We used the vegetable crackers in this tree for dipping. Most of the time, the decorations become part of the meal.

Nori dumplings with a rambutan custard. We actually turned over those spikey things (the rambutan) and slurped a custard from them - sounds strange, but it tasted amazing!

Homemade sprouted tempeh with microgreens

Baby artichoke with mint pesto and lemon

Apple in three stages - 8 year cider vinegar, frozen apple with cashew cheese, powdered oil, rose candy, fried lichen, and fermented apples.

We drank the vinegar by itself and it was so good.

Lily bulbs with celery, crab apple, and meyer lemon

Rice yogurt and white asparagus

Salsifies with oyster and dandelion, strawberry, rhubarb, and black pepper - my husband tells me the oyster leaves taste just like oysters.

Swiss chard and douchi - really great flavors here, I can't even begin to guess everything involved.

Kombu atoll with tamarind, aloe, and peas - the tofu skin has a very strange texture, which was a bit difficult for me.

Each course can be accompanied by wine, cocktails, or non-alcholoic drinks. I went with the non-alcoholic selection and some of my drinks were: Strawberry, Rhubarb and peppercorn; Blueberry and burnt orange; Charred pineapple with yerba mate and passion fruit.

Mushrooms with huitlacoche, blueberry, and bell pepper. This was really tasty.

Red onion, inspired by Stupak, with mago, galangal, and kaffir lime - I'm slightly obsessed with kaffir limes. And I loved the presentation here. That wiry thing on top is quinoa wire.

Curry roasted cauliflower

We actually tapped the contents out of the straw onto our plates, and it became part of the dish.

Olive oil jam and bitter chocolate with truffle - this was heavy on the truffle, a unique combination.

Hibiscus and pistachio with malt, bitter chocolate, and black sesame - the textures were amazing, frozen ice cream paired with cake and crunchy bits. I absolutely loved this dish, really complex but everything went together so well.

Steamed crepes - these were adorable little cakes with different flavors.

Overall it was an incredible experience. I must say, everything was very rich. I usually prefer things a bit lighter, but given the circumstances and the audience, it was nice to see how fulfilling and complex vegan food can be. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend it. Check their facebook page often for ticket openings.