Archives for category: Ingredients

We’ve written a couple of times about restaurants and events around Oak Cliff, and we’re getting the impression this may be the go-to place for vegetarians around the Dallas area. This week, we followed a tip from our friends at Greenling (we don’t work for them, scout’s honor, we’re just in that honeymoon phase) and tried Bolsa on Davis Street. Another Oak Cliff restaurant, another beautiful meal. And, like some of our other favorites, Bolsa serves vegetarian fare and meat dishes with equal attention to detail, so put this on your list of mixed group destinations.

While we usually visit restaurants together, this week one of us went with a couple of friends who don’t usually contribute to the VICC Project, so when you read “we,” it means the VICC vegetarian and some omnivorous friends. (Really, it’s the same setup with different people, but we don’t want to mislead anyone.)

The recommendation that sent us out this time mentioned that Bolsa strives to use local ingredients whenever possible. Of course we love the concept, so we had to check it out. We walked in and immediately noticed a collection of bird houses above the bar. This is only one of uncountable personal touches that make this restaurant/wine bar stand out. The wait staff is friendly, one wall is made of garage doors (part of the building’s original purpose, according to the site) and something about the place just makes you relax when you walk in. We did walk past some sort of hide on the floor to get to our table, but that was the only thing to cause a question.

Bolsa Cucumber Avocado Sandwich and Baby Greens Salad with Cranberries and AlmondsWhen we asked the waiter for their best vegetarian dish, he recommended the cucumber and avocado sandwich (9) without so much as pausing to take a breath. If you can come up with something that fast, we’re sold. He thought about it, and said margherita pizza is also great, but since it was lunch time we all had sandwiches. Thin cucumbers must have been stacked an inch tall with avocado sliced equally thin between them and the baby lettuce on the sandwich. Tomatoes, pesto and locally baked focaccia bread made this an amazing meal. This place definitely takes flavor into account when creating vegetarian options, which are not limited to salads and sides. Mixed baby lettuce salads with cranberries and slivered almonds with an amazing vinaigrette dressing came standard with the sandwiches. Healthful and delicious, we can’t recommend this enough.

The reuben (9), which comes on a beautiful marbled rye, also received a good report. Not a crumb was left on the plate, if that is any indication, so bring your meat-eating friends.

Dude, Sweet ChocolateAfter lunch, we headed (a couple of blocks at most) to the Bishop Arts District for a summer stroll through the shops. While there, we visited Dude, Sweet Chocolate, an artisan chocolate shop specializing in dark chocolates. The owner created chocolates in the open view kitchen while we browsed the boxed selections. We tried some samples (the two of us who tried the blue cheese and sea salt in chocolate had mixed opinions, but we all loved the hazelnut spread) and had the opportunity to chat her up. Extremely informed about the politics of cacao farming around the world, she said she buys her ingredients based on their quality and flavor, but that often turns out to be fair trade and/or organic. She doesn’t buy things because of their certifications, even though the stuff she buys may have them. From talking to her, we got the impression that she’s more of a fair life supporter than someone who demands or chases a certificate. And she cares about the source of her ingredients. Certifying organic or fair trade is expensive, and putting that money back into the land and those who work it makes more sense than chasing documentation that may or may not mean you’re getting something better. It makes sense to us! Crack in a Box from Dude, Sweet ChocolateShe is intelligent and impressive, but when you’re talking chocolate, you should really let the chocolate do the talking; and it did. Beautiful dark chocolate, this stuff is amazing. We joke about different foods being addictive, but Dude, Sweet actually sells “Crack in a Box,” which is a bark-style dark chocolate with soy nuts, almonds, nibs and who knows what else inside. Yes, we’ll tell you now, this is the stuff of dreams.

With names like “Break Up Potion” and “One Night Stand” for chocolate sauces containing bourbon and tequila, respectively, you know you’re in for a treat at this little corner of heaven. Make a point to visit Dude, Sweet the next time you are in Oak Cliff. You won’t regret it.

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.

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.

We recently discovered that for a couple of people who love tofu, and one who tolerates it, we know very little about it. For instance, we kind of took for granted that it comes pre-packaged at the grocery store. Nice little 16-oz. blocks just waiting to jump into the cart, right? Or pre-cooked from restaurants, who, we assumed, got the same blocks and worked their magic. Well, as Mom would say, “Never assume. You’ll make an ass out of u and me.”

Don’t tell Mom, but she was right. Based on a tip from a friend, we discovered that Viet Tofu, which sits in a little shopping strip off Walnut and Jupiter in Garland, makes fresh tofu every day. Makes tofu. In-house. To us, that’s like making paint or keyboards. Faith and fairy dust make these things. We get to them after they are packaged, priced and shelved. But that’s about to change – for the tofu, anyway.

Wrapped, fresh tofu.

Walking up to a cart and pulling a warm loaf of fresh tofu from a bin was exciting. It was like taking fresh bread from a bakery, only with more moisture. And these are heavier, of course. The cellophane-wrapped bricks of protein were just the beginning. Viet Tofu also offers fried tofu in several flavors, steamed rice cakes and tons of other goodies.

The fresh tofu is firm enough to slice and eat like a piece of cheese or meat, which we did at first. This has a flavor, but not enough to make it stand alone. When we got it home, we decided to play in the kitchen and see what we could do with our first batch of fresh tofu. We ended up scrambling half of it with quinoa, spices and salsa. It added an eggy texture, making a kind of protein packed fried rice feel. This is very firm, and a great ingredient. Had we not gobbled it up so fast, it definitely would have made a perfect tofu enchilada filling.

Left: Plain fried tofu. Top: Vegetable fried tofu. Right: Bean curd skin tofu. Botton: Lemon grass fried tofu.

In the fried tofu bins, we found tofu wrapped in bean curd skin. This smelled like chicken, so one of the omnivores took on the food tester role. Yep, it tastes like chicken, too. Fried chicken. It’s a little softer than the fresh tofu, but not overly creamy or gooey.

Of the various flavors of fried tofu, the vegetable cubes cut like a soft cheese and have very little flavor, but go great with spicy sauce. The lemongrass flavor has the same texture, but smells like chicken grease. The smell aside, this one has a fresh herb and mild spice flavor. Then there is the plain fried tofu. This has a fermented sort of flavor, but would otherwise take on the flavor of the dish in which it is cooked. Again, smooth and firm texture makes this a perfect finger food or knife and fork experience. We found ourselves popping them in our mouths right out of the fridge for a couple of days.

Green and white steamed rice cakes with sesame seeds.

Steamed rice cakes with sesame seeds.

A usual favorite, the steamed rice cakes here are less sweet than others. They are still sticky and have that fun, bouncy texture, but taste like they contain very little sugar. Of course, we tore right into the pack as soon as we stepped through the door, not bothering to run the cakes near a microwave, so perhaps these are better warm. We’ll find out next time.

Viet Tofu is more of a market, so everything is take home. The prices are very low (six to eight pieces of fried tofu for a dollar, depending on the type) and all the tofu varieties make great ingredients in whatever you want to cook. When we called to check on the grease used, we were told it is all vegetable oil. But there are fried tofu options with meat in them in the store, so if you don’t share grease between veggies and meat, stick to the fresh stuff.

Through experimentation, we stumbled onto this Tofu and Quinoa recipe:

Cook some quinoa beforehand. We used a rice cooker, but whatever works is good.

Smash about half a brick of fresh tofu with a fork until it crumbles to the size you want. Toss in some healthy shakes of garlic powder, oregano, Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, and a couple of shakes of tamari sauce and mix it all together well. Heat some oil in a pan – we used peanut, but only because it was on the counter – and scramble the tofu in the oil until it’s warm.

Add about 2 cups of cooked quinoa, maybe less, and roughly two tablespoons or so of salsa and mix it around the pan until everything heats through.

Drop it in a bowl and presto magico, you’ve got protein for dinner.

Next Time

We’ll have a lot to talk about next weekend. On Saturday, March 24, Meatout 2012 will happen at the Dallas Farmers Market Indoor Event Center from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. At 2 p.m. the same day, Truckstock starts over on Sylvan Avenue and runs until 7 p.m. A huge thanks to Sarah for telling us about Zombies Food Truck. We learned about Truckstock when we asked where they’d be next week. We hope to see you there.

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

Come back next Sunday for another ride through cattle country.

Or maybe we should say pass on the cheese, please. At this point, it could go either way. When you read a cheese label and see “enzymes” or “rennet” in the ingredients, it’s easy to just keep going, but maybe thinking more about where these items are found will give us all pause.

Rennet, traditionally harvested from enzymes found in the stomach lining of a calf, is an important part of making cheese. It helps break down the milk for digestion in the calf’s stomach and it helps the milk to coagulate and become cheese for our purposes. (For a full rennet education, check Google. There are tons of sites that go into great detail.) European cheeses have used natural calf rennet for centuries, and American artisans often do the same. But some cheese makers use other rennet sources in their processes. For instance, Mozzarella Company in Dallas uses vegetable rennet in all but two of its cheeses.

However, artisans produce only some of the cheese made, sold and consumed in America. Many (up to 90 percent) of the industrial cheese makers use a rennet made from a genetically modified organism considered to be vegetarian friendly. But for vegetarians who may not want to ingest GMOs, the molds used to create rennet might not get your mouth to water. And before you start hemming and hawing about mold, remember that many of the best cheeses around are good because the artisans wait for the perfect time and mix various molds into the cheese, so let’s not get too prissy. Besides, the molds are the least of the issues. Much of the GMO rennet comes from DNA taken from an animal cell and placed into the mold’s DNA. We’re not microbiologists or cheese specialists around here, but GMO is one of those acronyms that naturally gets attention. What happened to the calf that supplied the DNA? Was the mold then grown on meat or meat extract? Are we just way too picky about our cheese?

Without a trip to Pfizer, one of the companies that developed a GMO rennet, we’ll not venture to guess. But, as one artisan pointed out, to use natural calf rennet the amount is quite small at 1 milliliter per gallon. Vegetarians vary in their tolerances and it is not for us to dictate what others choose. The choice for grocery shopping, as we see it, the type of rennet. With the bulk of commercial cheeses sold being GMO, it may actually be more difficult to find one made with natural calf enzymes. But if you don’t want to take your chances, ask questions.

Some commercially sold cheeses state in the ingredients what they use. Tillamook usually uses a vegetable-based enzyme, but in two of their cheeses – vintage white medium cheddar and vintage white extra sharp cheddar – they use traditional rennet. Each of their vegetable-based enzyme cheeses say on the label, “Contains no animal rennet.” Labeling like this makes it easy to identify a vegetarian-friendly cheese, but not a GMO.

The best cheeses will always come from an artisan, and there are several within Texas. But if you buy from the grocery store, know what you’re buying and read your label. Unless it says, “Contains no animal rennet,” you’ll have to go online and check the source. “Enzymes” or “rennet” on the label have a chance of removing that cheese from the vegetarian realm, but they have a bigger chance of coming from a large pharmaceutical lab. The only wrong choice is an uninformed one. We simply have to decide where we place our tolerances and be happy in our decisions.


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


Come back next Sunday for: A look at Indian cuisine.

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