Archives for category: General

It’s been an interesting year at VICC Project and we’re glad we got to share it with you. We’ve learned that some of our favorite restaurants are not vegetarian friendly, found some wonderful foods in unlikely places, and discovered that we are truly lucky to live in a time when dietary choices are possible to maintain.

Perhaps the biggest lesson we learned this year is to always ask questions. No matter how much you love a place, if you don’t know what’s in that beautiful sauce, it could be beef broth, sausage grease, or any number of “flavor” items. Of course we’ll still go to Siciliano’s, A Taste of Italy, but now that we know there is very little offered without some sort of meat broth, we can make educated decisions about what we order.

We also learned not to judge a restaurant by its exterior. Walking into an old gas station for Indian food was scary. We’ll own that fear. But we went in and were pleased with what we found at Rasoi, the Indian Kitchen. The atmosphere is peaceful and the food delightful. With only one woman working on our visit, and cigarettes behind the counter, we are still not totally convinced there isn’t gas in those pumps, but we definitely recommend trying this one out. Just ask for only vegetarian items and trust the server that everything she puts on your plate will be good and run with it. This is an experience to enjoy.

Speaking of books and covers, remember to stop for food trucks. We counted at least five at the Veggie Fair this year that offered completely vegan menus, so hurry on over and ask the staff what they’ve got in there. You just might be happily surprised.

As we’ve said before, be glad to have so many choices in your vegetarian, pescetarian, or whateveretarian lifestyle. Between pre-packaged microwave meals, fake meat roasts, and organic delivery businesses, we are able to eat whatever we want whenever we want it. While we do prefer the control of a home cooked vegetarian meal, Field Roast, Smart Dogs and Tofurkey have made it easy to grab a quick meal on the run while Amy’s Kitchen and a few others give us microwave meals ready in minutes. And while you are shopping for vegetarian instant meals, remember your local Indian grocer. Green spots mean vegetarian, so go green while you shop.

This has been a wonderful year for exploring our little corner of the world. We’re heading out west in a couple of days and hope to get some good recommendations for roadside food stops. We’re only taking vegetarians on this trip, so any suggestions between Dallas, TX, and Anaheim, CA along the southern route would be appreciated. Post comments here or e-mail us at and we’ll give your spots a try.

Until next we meet, enjoy great food and keep a happy heart.

Come back next Sunday for another ride through cattle country.

Welcome to December. For those of you involved in volunteer organizations, fraternities, sororities, or any number of other large groups, this means banquet season. Having attended two banquets in two days, we once again say the food is secondary to the company. But, being the fat kids we are at heart, we still love to try the food.

First we visited the Tower Club in Downtown Dallas’s Thanksgiving Tower. We found the staff amazing, the view remarkable, and the food pretty good, too. On the buffet table we encountered baked potato and asparagus soup, Cesar salad, roasted vegetables, chicken and beef. Of course, not knowing which of the dishes used what broth, we were glad to find a vegan option offered away from the buffet line.
Vegan plate from the Tower clubThis plate came with a potato and corn cake under crisp-tender asparagus and surrounded by roasted vegetables. Red peppers, green and yellow squash, and what appeared to be anise bulb were quite mild with a simple roast. The asparagus was lovely and perfectly cooked. While we were not disappointed, we weren’t jumping up and down over the flavor. Of course, this could be our hillbillyesque upbringing, but we focused more on the staff than the food. No matter what the wait and cater staff members are paid here, they deserve more for their amazing service. For the attendees who acted like the staff wasn’t there, they blended into the background. Yet when we made eye contact and thanked any staff member for a special plate, refill or whatever, we received a warm smile and friendly attitude. Of course the option to arrange special plates to a dinner based on dietary requirements was a wonderful addition to any large dinner, and the view from the 48th floor definitely created a one-of-a-kind dining experience.

The following night’s banquet was just as fun (because we are involved in wonderful organizations around here) and featured food options from the opposite end of the spectrum. This group brought large trays from Qdoba into their facilities and had volunteers serve attendees. Chicken or beef, again, but with the option of a rice and bean bowl with choice of toppings. We’ll forever more put rice on our nachos after having chips on our bowls, and we had a great time with amazing people.

Whatever style of banquet, dinner, awards ceremony or fellowship you attend this month, remember that there is always a way to stay full, but the food is not the focus; spend your energy appreciating your friends and peers while you all enjoy a night together.

Until next we meet, enjoy great food and keep a happy heart.

Come back next Sunday for another ride through cattle country.

It’s been a busy week around Dallas. The Texas State Fair is winding down, we lost Big Tex to a fire, and local vegetarians and vegans are ramping up for the Texas State Veggie Fair. Our plan was to hit the standard fair, then head to the veggie fair, but with Big Tex burning down, we’re not sure we’ll make it to the standard one.

We’ll miss Big Tex, and people who aren’t from here definitely don’t understand why. Honestly, it’s a 60-year-old giant Santa Claus skeleton turned cowboy, so why should we care? But we do. Those of us who grew up meeting at his giant boots every year, who were welcomed by his giant “Howdy, Folks,” and who had our first stolen kisses in his shadow, will miss him terribly. There is talk of rebuilding, but when you make it bigger or better, it reminds us all of what we’ve lost.

But the fair, it’s meant to roll with the times, and that’s what it’s doing. Good Karma Kitchen brought the vegan option to the masses this year. Vegans and vegetarians were able to skip the fried (insert random near-food here)s in favor of something a bit more healthful. Maybe this will be a trend and other vegan and vegetarian food vendors will start popping up next year. We’ll have to see.

The biggest excitement for us this week is definitely the veggie fair. From what we’ve seen so far, this is a great place to go and just be ourselves. A place where we can partake of the food without asking what’s in the fryer, and where nobody will look at us strange for skipping the barbecue. Since the veggie fair is Sunday (today), we’ll fill you in later with our impressions and takeaways.

For now, though, enjoy a beautiful recipe submitted to us by Melinda Stone of Denton. We’re calling it Portobello Bliss.

Portabello, pepper, onion and squash

One portobello mushroom top
One red pepper
One summer squash
Half an onion
Near east pine couscous
Handful of toasted pine nuts
Spoon full of minced garlic
Olive oil
Red pepper flakes

Slice veggies into thick chunks, spread on a cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle on garlic, red pepper, salt and pepper to taste. Bake in 425 degree oven for 20 minutes or until soft. Prepare couscous as box instructs. Top couscous with veggies and pine nuts and enjoy.

Portobello, peppers, onions, and veggies over couscous

Thanks Ms. Stone for the amazing recipe. Pine nuts and garlic are a pair made in Heaven by anybody’s standards. Great job.

Until next we meet, enjoy great food and keep a happy heart.

Come back next Sunday for another ride through cattle country.


The 2012 Texas State Veggie Fair was wonderful. We were definitely at home there with so many vegan and vegetarian options. Mercy for Animals handed out recipes (with industry pictures, of coures), the Vegan Black Metal Chef gave a cooking demo, and we finally caught up with Good Karma Kitchen.

The food smelled wonderful as we wandered through rows of vendor tents taking it all in. Food trucks lined a street near a stage where live bands played throughout the day, kids bounced in a bounce house, and a few brave souls took to a bungie swing. Overall, this was a modern lifestyle version of a small town or county fair from an idyllic time; quiet and calm, people talking to friends and strangers alike, kids dancing around, and nobody worrying about much of anything. If we could pick a favorite way to spend an afternoon, this would be it.

We’ve been trying to get to Good Karma Kitchen for months, but every time we are in Fort Worth, they are in Dallas, or the other way around. We finally crossed paths at the Veggie Fair and are glad we did. This food truck is completely vegan, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a bit of down home Texas cuisine. With Barbecue Tacos and Frito Pie on the menu, we knew we were in for a treat. After asking which was better, we went with the pie. A mountain of chips covered some of the thickest chili we’ve had in a while. Yes, it’s vegan, but the texture is beautiful. Chunks of fresh tomatoes and green peppers, black beans, and what we guessed was TVP or another veggie meat gave this a depth we didn’t expect to find on a truck. It may look like a little cup of chili, but that is one of the most filling meals we’ve had in a long time. If you ever see this bright yellow truck, no matter the time of day, it’s lunch time. Trust us.

Capital City Bakery offered a selection of vegan treats, so we naturally went there next. An oatmeal cream pie with vanilla cream (vegan, of course) frosting proved to be more than we could handle in one sitting. That sucker was HUGE! But it came wrapped, so we carried it around and nibbled throughout the day until it was gone. Pumpkin cupcakes were amazing as well. The ability to make things like this that taste so good, so much better than what we remember from our childhoods, is what brings people to realize that being vegan doesn’t mean have to resign yourself to accept that you will lack anything in your food life. Again, if you ever see this truck, make sure to stop and visit.

Inside the rec center, we attended a couple of cooking demos. A vegan bartender removed any and all animal products from some delicious beverages, some of which we didn’t even know weren’t vegan. She offered tips for some popular items. Jello shots, for instance, are obviously not vegan. But you if you use Agar Agar (available at any Asian market) instead, you are in business.

We were surprised to see that her entire audience left and the Vegan Black Metal Chef’s following came in. We figured there would be some crossover, but we may have been the only ones to see both demos. (We are the lucky ones.) He made Aloo Palak and Buffalo Seitan Bites in his demo with nothing precooked accept the boiled potatoes. The spices from the seitan filled the packed room, so definitely use the stove fan if you make this. Watching him make two vegan dishes from scratch in under an hour made us think we might actually have time to cook dinner, even on the busy days. Shocking videos aside, this guys is quite funny in person. Oh, and all the armor he wears in his videos is made of rubber, not leather.

If you get the chance to go to the veggie fair next year, do it. You don’t have to be vegan or even vegetarian to attend, so bring your friends. This is an eclectic group of people with one thing in common: we accept each other’s choices not to eat meat. Enjoy the adventure!

Those of you who have been with us from the beginning know that we are not the militant vegetarians so many meat eaters criticize. We understand that different people like different things and that meat is a huge part of many diets. That’s fine! We make choices that work for us and don’t expect others to live outside of their own choices. We do, however, respect all life and believe that living, feeling, thinking creatures should be treated as such. A cow is not a plant and a pig is not a window, they feel differently, experience fear, and communicate with their own species. We should treat them with at least some level of respect. We’re not saying let the herd sleep in the house. We just think that all the members of the herd should be allowed live without fear and that if you must kill them, you could do it in a humane way.

Unfortunately, not everyone shares our views. We admit to being empathetic to the feelings of others, both human and non-human, so when we saw an article saying that an investigation by Mercy for Animals led to a felony animal cruelty conviction, we were excited. Then, when we saw the sentence was only 30 days in jail and 42 months of probation, we felt it was a little light. Of course MFA did a great job investigating and the fact that people can finally be held responsible for the harm they cause is fantastic news, we just felt the offender in that case didn’t get much of a punishment.

From a societal standpoint, kicking, beating, tearing off limbs and other atrocities have been considered acceptable actions toward animals in industrial farming situations. That’s why MFA can do such in-depth investigations, because these things happen on a regular basis. But times they are a changin’ and we couldn’t be more pleased. This felony conviction set the precedent that we are accountable for what we do to our “food” animals, even in an industrial farming environment.  We are, well, some of us are, becoming a more educated society. Through education we develop understanding and empathy for those around us, and this conviction shows our evolution at the legal level. Perhaps future convictions will carry heavier sentences and truly dissuade farm workers from mistreating the animals under their care.

Unfortunately, obstinance allows people to refuse any education that might make them appear somehow “wrong” in retrospect. We’ve learned that slavery, refusing to educate women, putting prisoners into stockades, and countless other positions are wrong throughout our growth into human society. We have even put limits on the cruelty we can inflict upon animals during experimentation. Yet there are always people who stick with a failing argument just for the sake of sticking with it, so we have to expect that level of blind grasping on this brand of atrocity, as well.

In general, we know that those of us who care about other living beings are still a minority, but we are growing. This felony conviction is the first of what we hope will be many animal cruelty convictions of industrial farm workers. The bigger issue, as MFA pointed out, is the industry itself. Family farms may view their livestock as food, but the cows are milked every day, chickens are fed and allowed to run around in the sun, and all the animals are treated as an investment until slaughter. At the very least, we should be able to hold industrial farms to the same standards. This will be a long road, but if all of us, meat eating and vegetarian alike, make an effort to support cruelty-free sources and get the word out that we will not abide torture of any living things, perhaps we can make this climb to a less abusive society together.

Until next we meet, enjoy great food and keep a happy heart.

Come back next Sunday for another ride through cattle country.

We found Engine 2 when shopping on Greenling and decided to try it. After a week of eating what the recipe kit told us to eat for dinner, and a few lunches, we have mixed feelings on the plant-based meal plan. We love vegetarian diets, of course, and most of the meals are pretty healthful with a wide enough range to keep it interesting, but we found ourselves adding salt or cheese when we reheated leftovers for lunch. Leftovers are one of the great things about going through Greenling (see last week’s post) for this meal plan because the meals will feed more than intended. Although we ordered five meals for two people, we got three to four servings out of each meal during the first week.

Day 1: Nachos

Engine 2 Nachos on three plates

Plenty of food for three people, this recipe is amazing. We made the mistake of setting our broiler to low when cooking the chips, so they were not as crispy as they could have been. Then the moisture from the beans and tomatoes made the chips a little soggy, but the nachos still tasted incredible. A beautiful salsa, fresh tomatoes and avocado are perfect with organic black beans. Anything that can survive our clumsy handling and still taste great has our vote.
*added bonus: Making tortilla chips (correctly) in the oven saves a little money over buying them packaged.

Day 2: Portobello Mushrooms and Mashed Potatoes with Seasonal Vegetables

Engine 2 Marinate Mushrooms with Mashed Potatoes and Seasonal Vegetables

Incredible. This is by far the favorite meal of the week. We put the marinade into the mushroom container and shook it around and poured it all onto the baking sheet. Our lack of culinary training (and apparent common sense) led to some smokey mushrooms coming out of the oven. Note for next time, don’t pour marinade all over a baking sheet. It will burn before the mushrooms cook. But, even after trying to burn the mushrooms (and the veggies, for that matter) this was amazing. It presents well and the mushrooms are tender enough to cut with a fork. The rosemary and garlic in the potatoes bring a gourmet touch to comfort food. This dish reheats well, too!

Day 3: Cauliflower Soup

Engine 2 Cauliflower Soup

Soup is surprisingly easy to make when someone else does all the prep work. This one is good, but doesn’t stand out as a favorite from the plan. We added salt to one of the three reheats (yes three, this recipe makes a large pot of soup) and that helped. Large chunks of cauliflower and potatoes give this more of a stew feel, so we thought biscuits might be in order. While they are great for sopping up the liquid, plan to eat much less than you think you need because the soup is filling and the bread will swell.

Day 4: Pasta Primavera

Engine 2 Pasta Primavera

Whatever else happens, don’t use the entire crushed pepper packet. Yowza! That’s one hot dish. But, while it did burn, we couldn’t stop eating it. Fresh kale and peppers bring texture to a pre-made organic sauce and noodles. We melted cheese over the leftovers and that helped cool it down a bit, but if you have a pallet for spice, you’ll like this meal.

Day 5: Shepherd’s Pie

Engine 2 Shepherd's Pie

Rosemary potatoes (left over from the second day) and lentils drive this dish. Good on the first day, shepherd’s pie shines in leftovers. Maybe it’s the flavors mixing or just mashing everything under a plastic lid, but something happens overnight that makes this better on the second and third day. Like the others we had from week three, this recipe makes well more than the promised two servings.

We stumbled into Engine 2 by accident, but the convenience and nutritional quality of what we found make it worth continuing. Our sample is limited, and at some point, we’ll probably buy the book and see what this diet is all about. For now, the good meals are great and the worst meals are only as bad as “meh,” so we’ll add Engine 2 to our dinner rotation. We alter the recipes with salt, oil or cheese to fit our tastes, which is probably counterproductive to any weight loss goal, but we like the meals.

Until next we meet, enjoy great food and keep a happy heart.

Come back next Sunday for another ride through cattle country.

We’ve often talked about how great it would be to have a fridge full of food we could  just heat and eat without all the chemicals and preservatives involved in typical packaged meals. How much we would love to open the pantry and find measured ingredients already chopped and ready to assemble, if only we weren’t too cheap to hire personal chefs. Then we found Greenling.

With locations in Austin, San Antonio and now Dallas, Greenling delivers certified organic and locally grown groceries to your door. And the best part: you pick your level of involvement! If you want to plan your meals and order ingredients to prepare yourself, do it. If, like us, you dream of a time when someone will not only suggest what you should eat each day, but also wash, measure, chop and package everything you’ll need to make that dish, your dreams just came true.

We first heard about Greenling when a friend posted a 10% discount coupon on FaceBook. While we didn’t immediately use the coupon, we did research the service that we knew was too good to be true. Besides, even the Jimmy John’s a few miles away doesn’t deliver to this area, so what are the chances something this specialized will? Well, we were wrong. This is too good, but it’s also true. On top of that, the greater Dallas area’s delivery service even goes to the suburbs. Is this real life? Organic vegetables, delivered to your door, AND you can support local farmers? Yep. It’s real life, all right. We went with the Station 2 prepared diet plan and got our first box on Friday.

Screenshot of 100 degree tempurature on Friday, July 20 from dateandtime.comStill skeptical, we opened the bright green box thinking we’d find a wilted vegetable stew. Instead, we found a still-cold (after sitting on a porch for a couple of hours at least) box of bags, cans and crisp vegetables all bundled and marked with “Day 1” to “Day 5” depending on when we should use them based on the plan we ordered. (More versatility is available, too, we just didn’t want to think about anything in the first week.)

First impressions of this company are good. Our packing slip, taped to the outside of the box, had listed answers to ordering questions. One of those questions referred to pets, so we, being a bit silly (although honest) said we officially had cats, but listed some of the random other critters that wander around our place, including skunks and coyotes. The person packing our box actually too the time to be silly back and hand wrote a note. Kudos to any company who embraces fun and passes it along, even if they don’t see us in person.

Welcome packet with recipes, discounts and a stickerFrom the top, we found a welcome packet with an advertising bumper sticker, company brochure and refer a friend coupon. Our recipe kit for “5-Day Meal Kit 3” from the Engine 2 Diet listed what we would eat for each of the next five days, with ingredient lists and recipes that included “hands-on time estimates.” We removed the packing materials and a freezer pack that covered everything, keeping it cold.

Greenling box items, organized by day to useUnderneath, we saw potatoes in paper bags, pre-measured peppers, salsa, and other refrigerator items in their own plastic cups, and everything organized into bags to make unpacking as mindless as possible. Had we not been taking pictures of the entire process, we could have been finished unloading and had the box ready to return in less than five minutes. (It may have taken 15 with the discussion and random stops to snap a shot.) The bottom of the box is lined with shredded newspaper and more packing material.

We ordered enough to have one meal for two each day for five days. That’s 10 meals ready to assemble and eat. Our total came to 81.99, including a one-time container deposit of $10, putting our meals at just over $7 a pop. We did get a 10% discount on this order (Thanks!), but even at $8 a meal, that’s still what we normally pay when go to a restaurant. Only we know these ingredients are organic and often locally grown. Some of the farmers listed on Greenling’s site are in Rockwall. That’s only about 20 minutes by car from where we opened the box. You can’t get too much more local than that without growing the food yourself.

Yes, some assembly is required, so if you are allergic to your kitchen, this won’t be your best option. For us, though, knowing we can order a week’s worth of food and just put it together like a Lego set is perfect. We’ll let you know how the recipes turn out next time.

Until next we meet, enjoy great food and keep a happy heart.

Come back next Sunday for another ride through cattle country.

All of us here at the VICC Project have visited an Italian place in Garland since dinosaurs roamed the earth. OK, maybe not quite that long, but definitely our entire lives. Since opening in 1981, we’ve watched Siciliano’s, A Taste of Italy grow from a small, dimly lit room in a shopping center into a large, airy restaurant in its own freestanding building.

Siciliano's, A Taste of Italy's Baked ZitiA favorite, even when all of us ate meat, was the angel hair with artichokes. That fell off the menu at some point along the way so we tried other dishes, like eggplant parm (best we’d had), baked ziti (great if you like ricotta, still very good if you don’t), and plain old spaghetti with tomato sauce (also delightful). Over the years we’ve eaten our weight in Siciliano’s food many times over, so we aren’t exaggerating when we say we love this place.

When we recently noticed a new (to us) lunch menu and asked a waitress for a vegetarian recommendation, we were shocked when she offered a chicken dish we could just order without the chicken.

“Umm, thanks, but do you have anything that didn’t start with chicken?” we asked. “Are your sauces broth based?”

“Oh yes,” she said, “all of them are. Really the only thing you could get is the three cheese pizza. That doesn’t have sauce on it.”

GASP! “Nothing?”

“That’s really your only option. Sorry.”

It was like rhinos came charging in to pin us to the booth. We’ve eaten here our entire lives, some of us actually used the high chairs at the old location, and all we have left is pizza and rolls? So this is crushing disappointment. Now we know.

At that moment, when our hearts sank and we agreed to at least try that sauceless pizza, we felt as if an old friend, a very best friend, had died. How sad we were that we could never come back to this once wondrous place and have our fill of delicious, saucy pasta dishes. We’d never again feel the garlic butter drip off the rolls and down our forearms or chins. Nor would we laugh at each other as this happened. Our worlds got smaller.

Then it hit us. According to our waitress, we’ve been eating broth-based sauces the entire time we’ve tried to maintain vegetarian diets. Yikes! That stings! And why did we never ask about the sauces before? We ask every time we go someplace new, but we took for granted that this trusted food was meat free. That was not smart. A trip to Italy taught us that nearly everything starts with meat, then goes from there. But we are in the U.S. and we’ve loved this place forever, so it never crossed our minds to ask.

We were so stunned by this revelation that we didn’t even think to storm into the kitchen and question the chef. We’ll save that for next time. And, even with this newly found meat knowledge, there will be a next time. That’s how addicted we are and how good this place is! We can’t stop going even though the menu is reduced to one item. Two if you count the freshly baked rolls.

Siciliano's, A Taste of Italy's rollsHonestly, the rolls alone are worth the trip into Garland. Dripping with melted butter and always hot, straight from the oven, these are the standard to which we hold all other breads in Italian restaurants. So far, nobody has engineered a better garlic bread or roll and we all feel nobody ever will. But, as the saying goes, we cannot survive on bread alone.

Siciliaon's, A Taste of Italy's Three Cheese PizzaSo the pizza came. Yes, the crust, which is made in house, is bread, but the cheese and toppings come together to make yet another masterpiece from this restaurant. Pick your favorite three toppings and you have your individual perfect pizza. At $8.99 for a small, it’s a little pricy for one, but there is enough to share. Just find a friend who likes what you like.

After thinking about this for a while, we almost wish we hadn’t asked. Sure, we’re glad to be aware of what we’re putting into our bodies, but the general ability to just enjoy something and not care whence it comes is becoming a little more clear to us now. Of course, the omnivores among us have no problem, and the strict vegetarian is limited to the (amazing) pizza, but for those who don’t mind a little broth in the sauce, this is still a great place to eat.

The most shocking part of this whole ordeal is our general lack of sense when it comes to places we already love. Lesson learned. Unless you’ve already asked, check the ingredients. We’ll probably check again in the hopes that maybe this particular waitress misinformed us, but the point is that we should never have just blindly followed the mouth-watering smells without question. For now, we’ll just have to accept that we’ll do better in the future.

Until next we meet, enjoy great food and keep a happy heart.

Come back next Sunday for another ride through cattle country.

What do you think of when you think of food for the Fourth of July? If you said barbecue, you’re among the majority in Texas. But just because you don’t eat meat doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a day with friends.

Of course, the standard hot dog, chicken and hamburger replacements are top of the list for fitting in at a party. Actually, any of the non-breaded frozen meat replacements work wonderfully on the grill. Of those, we love Smart Dogs and Tofu Pups, which both grill nicely, and the soy Boca patties for burgers. Or, if you prefer to make your own patties, has a list of some pretty interesting burger recipes. Slap the BBQ sauce – the real magic of a Texas barbecue – on any readily available meat substitute and you might be the only one who realizes you’re eating a vegetarian meal.

But meat substitutes aren’t the only way to enjoy using the grill. Large or cut vegetables are amazing and light enough to keep you upright through the heat of the afternoon. Toss a portabella cap on the heat and dress it up for a juicy burger alternative. Or skewer some summer squash, onions, peppers, fruits and whatever else you have on hand for something even the carnivores will love. Vegetable skewers cook up fast, so squeeze some fresh lemon over them and put them to the fire toward the end of the grilling cycle.

Although many of those listed are not inherently vegetarian, Kelly Worthington-Hardy has a beautiful Pinterest page for red, white and blue food. Any of the gelatin deserts can be reworked with agar agar, and Newport Flavors and Fragrances makes some vegan food coloring options. It may take a little planning, but making festive take-alongs can be downright easy if that’s what you want.

If you are more “old fashioned” with your snacks (which we tend to be), try simple deviled eggs – add pickles or celery for increased texture – and ants on a log. They may not fall into the new expected colors, but they’ve been around since the dawn of entertaining for a reason. Or maybe something along the lines of lemonade or a summer punch are more your speed? A little beet sugar and a bag of fresh fruit to juice goes a long way on a hot summer afternoon around here.

The point is, if you are celebrating America’s independence with friends and family this Wednesday, you shouldn’t have to work harder finding something to eat or serve than you do deciding where to spend the day. Spend your time enjoying each other’s company and cook up some of the many vegetarian options that are becoming more readily available every day.

Until next we meet, enjoy great food and keep a happy heart.

Come back next Sunday for another ride through cattle country.

Healthful vegetarian meals can do wonders for the body, but who says vegetarians all have time to shop, rinse, chop and cook every single day just because we cut that one little thing out of our diets? Sometimes, we like to pull the junk food out of the freezer just like anybody else. (There, the secret is out. We can all stop gasping and pretending this is a surprise.) But for years this was a difficult objective. Vegetable lasagna doesn’t always mean vegetarian, and reading every label in search of chicken stock or beef broth can get time consuming. There was always a small group of options at any major grocery store, maybe three to five products, plus veggie dogs, available to us, but that’s changing fast.

We’ve recently noticed the vegetarian sections in the freezer cases getting larger. The original few selections from Amy’s and a few more from MorningStar Farms or Boca are still around but lately we’ve noticed actual vegetarian (not so much vegan yet, sorry) options for pizza, burritos and a wider variety of meat substitutes.

Whole Foods Market's frozen meals displayEven the go-to veggie places are increasing their options. Whole Foods Market has a huge selection of Amy’s products (perhaps the whole line, with at least three cases of just that brand), Tofurkey pizzas and meals, Kashi, Starlite Cuisine – which was new to us – and the more widely accessible brands we keep stocked in our freezers. Add to that Veganaise, Tofutti and Wallaby brands and you might not need to go anyplace else. The frozen options are mostly of the three to five minute variety, so we’re well on our way to fitting in with the other people who don’t have time to cook.

Central Market Frozen Food DisplayCentral Market offers an equally strong variety of frozen meals, but, to be honest, we started going there for the bakery. Artisan breads made fresh daily, need we say more? We do? Really? OK. Fresh tortillas made in house! We asked, and these do not include lard, so there’s a double bonus. Yes, we’ve loved Central market for years, mostly for the bakery, but also for the variety of vegetarian and vegan options the stores offer.

While looking for fast meals, remember that Whole Foods and Central Market have both created their own store brands that offer some vegetarian options. Whole Foods markets their brand under 365 Everyday Value and 365 Organic Everyday Value while Central Market’s brand uses the store name. Both stores also have great bulk and pre-made areas to grab anything from pickles and olives to pesto and couscous. These can get a little pricey, but the options are there if you’re in a hurry.

Natural Grocers frozen food displayIn our search for fast options, we ran across a Natural Grocers. Never having been into one, we were impressed with wide the vegetarian selection, which extended beyond the freezer case and into the frozen bins, but also with the prices. Some of the items we saw here were significantly less expensive than at similar places. Of course, dealing with specialty foods means paying more until our diets are mainstream, but this bill didn’t sting like so many others.

Sprouts Texas Grown produce signWe found another nice surprise at Sprouts Farmers Market. This store offers dry goods and bulk snacks, but it really does look more like a market than a store. The produce stacked up in bins and along walls was clean, colorful, and it smelled delicious. Coming across a huge section marked “Texas Grown” didn’t hurt our opinions, either. We like any chance we get to eat food grown on relatively nearby soil so the sign made us smile. Add to all of this a decent sound track and Sprouts absolutely goes onto our “must frequent” list.

Mock Abalone and Mock Chicken from an Asian marketA couple of options we never heard mentioned when asking people where to find good vegetarian pre-made food are the Asian and Indian markets around town. This hole in the suggestion list surprised us. Given the abundance of vegetarian options available at any of these stores we honestly thought those would be top of the list. Whether you are looking for mock meats or paneer, both of these tend to have huge selections at great prices. We often spend less going to both our local Indian and Asian markets in one day than we do in a quick trip to Whole Foods. Like so many other places, the vegetarian and meat versions are shelveGreen dot marking vegetarian option on Indian food packagingd side by side, but reading the labels will keep you on track. And here’s a helpful tip: foods imported from or intended for sale in India tend to have either red or green dots on their packages, indicating meat (red) or veg (green) ingredients. That’s a shopping speed increase off the bat.

Wherever you shop, if you’re in the market for quick microwave meals and prepared foods, the vegetarian options are growing. Yes, fresh is always better, and better for you, but that’s generally true about anything. And, like so many other people around here, sometimes we’re just too busy to dice and chop, bake and boil, stir and fry. But it’s great to know we have options and that they’re growing every day.

Until next we meet, enjoy great food and keep a happy heart.

Come back next Sunday for another ride through cattle country.

You know that feeling when a coworker is running out to pick up lunch and offers to grab something for you, too? That hesitation while you wonder how high-maintenance you’ll come across when asking to hold this or add that? We know it all too well and receive varying food quality when we ask for “whatever they offer for vegetarians.” Take sub sandwiches for instance. These can range from a basic salad on bread to a beautiful combination of flavors, but it depends on whence they come.

As a standard option that comes immediately to mind, Subway offers a pretty wide selection of toppings to put together for a vegetarian sandwich. And some locations offer a veggie patty. Heated in a microwave, this patty gives the sandwich a little more weight when they don’t overcook it. Add spinach and your favorite toppings for a decent sandwich and filling lunch.

We heard great things about Charley’s Grilled Subs. They, too, offer warm warm sandwiches, but the vegetarian version does not live up to the hype. We had hope for this one, with cheese, onions, mushrooms and the standard salad toppings, but this basic onion sandwich was not created for vegetarians so much as thrown together with what was available on the line. If you like meat, two of our carnivores are mixed on this. One loves the prime rib, another isn’t clear about the turkey, so your meat-eating friends may be in luck. The vegetarian option, however, was not great.

Firehouse Subs also offers a warm sandwich similar to the one at Charley’s. Melted cheese, onions, mushrooms, and toppings sound like a good start, but the sauce mixed with the lettuce for a cole slaw experience before it got everywhere. Soggy bread, lackluster flavor and a general feeling that this sandwich was made of random sides definitely keep this off the favorites list.

On the other hand, Quiznos has a toasted veggie sandwich that starts with cheese, mushrooms and similar items, but actually works. Perhaps because this one includes avocado as a standard ingredient, or possibly because the onions aren’t half an inch thick, but this is a good lunch option just the way it comes. No need to substitute anything.

Potbelly Sandwich Shop has several options for vegetarians with a warm peanut butter and jelly, mushroom melt, and the new Mediterranean. Any lunch with hummus is amazing and Pobtelly’s newest edition is no exception. Hummus, peppers, cucumbers, artichoke hearts and red peppers make this spicy enough to let you know it’s there without overwhelming the general goodness that we love about a mediterranean flair. This has great flavor, makes a filling lunch, and was obviously created as a vegetarian sandwich.

Among our favorites, Jimmy John’s has an addictive cold sandwich that is good enough to make you fat. Plain and simple. A basic enough sandwich, we absolutely love it. White bread, provolone cheese, avocado and mayo don’t leave much room for anything else in the daily calorie count so if you’re on a diet, stay away from this beautifully simple sandwich. If, however, you aren’t afraid of a few extra ounces, definitely give this one a try. This comes in a gourmet club, as well, which is wonderful on extra thick wheat bread. It’s not a sub, but the bread’s nutty flavor makes the experience feel slightly less forbidden. Oh, and you can get this delivered, too!

The absolute best vegetarian sub, hands down, has to be the summer sub on wheat from The Great Outdoors. Being a favorite and a place we frequent, this might have influenced our opinions about a few of the others. Even without seeing a menu, ordering a number 19, hold the lettuce and add sprouts just rolls off the tongue. This is an amazing cold sandwich with cream cheese, mushrooms, cucumbers, muenster cheese and more. We add avocado because it’s worth it, but that’s not required for an extremely satisfying lunch. This is our far and away favorite sub and shop.

So there are a few of the “eat-at-your-desk” options when your office mates are going out for subs. We’re always on the lookout for something new, so if you have a favorite sub shop hidden away, let us know.

Until next we meet, enjoy great food and keep a happy heart.

Come back next Sunday for another ride through cattle country.

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