Spicy Spotlight: NW Elixirs

You may recall that two weekends ago, H and I attended the second annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo, where we had the time of our lives sampling incredible, small batch, craft hot sauces in every flavor imaginable and meeting tons of great people.  We also purchased and brought home dozens of bottles of those sauces, and I immediately got to work coming up with fun uses and recipes for some of our acquisitions.

Over the coming weeks I am going to spotlight some of these products and my uses for them on the blog.   No one is paying me for this; I am only sharing because I have truly fallen in love with each and every one of these sauces and the incredible depth of flavor that they have added to my food.

For my first Spicy Spotlight, may I present NW Elixirs.  This company uses high quality ingredients to produce four flavors of hot sauce.  All four flavors were available to sample at the Expo, but only two of them are vegan, and H and I and purchased those two: the Verde Hott (#2) and the Hott Smoke (#3).

VERDE HOTT
If you’ve ever had salsa verde, picture that…and then turn it up about 1000 notches, and you’ll be approaching Verde Hott.Spicy Spotlight 001I don’t know what it is about this sauce, but it is bursting at the seams with flavor.  It is so incredibly fresh-tasting, slightly sweet, and a little tangy.  It is perfect.  This is not a particularly spicy hot sauce, but it does have a nice kick.  I didn’t even consider myself a salsa verde fan before trying this, but once I tasted it, I had to have it.

The #1 way we’ve been using it is to make the easiest and best guacamole of all time.  This is what you do:

Take half an avocado, remove the pit, and fill the hole with Verde Hott.
Spicy Spotlight 016

Mash it up.  You’re done.
Spicy Spotlight 005This is wow-inducing guacamole.  If you don’t currently experience cravings for raw veggies, you will after you try dipping them in this.

HOTT SMOKE
The Hott Smoke is somewhat similar to a traditional barbecue sauce in consistency, but with a well-rounded, less sickly sweet flavor than other such sauces.  It is one of the least spicy sauces we bought.  With this one, it’s all about the flavor!
NW Elixirs Smoke 001

H is a big fan of this sauce as a spread for sandwiches (with non-vegan fillings).  I think it is absolutely perfect for grilling tofu:
NW Elixirs Smoke 007Just brush it on and grill it up!

Or for amping up your standard mushroom gravy!
NW Elixirs Smoke 002

HOTT SMOKY MUSHROOM GRAVY
Makes 1-1.5 cups

Ingredients
2/3 cup vegetable broth
1/3 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon mild miso (I used yellow)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons worth)
8 oz. sliced baby bella (aka crimini) mushrooms, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 – 2 tablespoons NW Elixirs Hott Smoke
1 – 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional)

Instructions
Combine the broth and milk in a measuring cup or small bowl.  Add cornstarch and miso and whisk until dissolved.  Set aside.

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the garlic and shallots and saute about 2 minutes or until lightly golden.

Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to soften and shrink down (about 5 minutes).

Add the broth/milk/cornstarch/miso mixture, thyme, and black pepper, stir to combine, and then bring the whole thing to a gentle simmer.  Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until it has cooked down and thickened.

Remove from heat and stir in Hott Smoke and optional nutritional yeast (start with 1 tablespoon, then taste and add more if desired).  Add salt to taste (mine didn’t need any because there was enough salt in the broth and miso, but this will vary).

Substitutions
1) If you aren’t lucky enough to have Hott Smoke in your kitchen, you can substitute another not-too-sweet barbecue sauce and a dash or two of liquid smoke.
2) The non-dairy milk is optional; if you don’t have or don’t want to use it, just go with a full cup of broth.
3) Use chickpea miso for a soy-free version, or omit altogether.

This is heaven over mashed potatoes.  Heaven, I tell you!
NW Elixirs Smoke 009So my first attempts at cooking with Expo products were a success!  It felt good to justify the absurd amount of stuff we brought home from it this way :)  As per H:  “The lack of restraint we showed at the Hot Sauce Expo actually worked out fantastically!”

I’ll have lots more fun, spicy cooking experiments to share in the coming weeks!

Have a great weekend!

 

Choco-berry Smoothie–a Green Smoothie that is not green!

Why, oh why, have I never added cocoa powder to a smoothie before today?

There is no good answer to this question.  I’m just going to chalk it up as one of life’s great unsolved mysteries.

What I can tell you for certain is that the smoothie I made this morning, incorporating unsweetened cocoa powder, was outstanding.  It is one that I highly recommend, particularly to anyone looking to ease into green smoothies.  I happen to love the hint of leafy goodness that most green smoothies impart, but I know it’s not for everyone, and in this one both the taste and color of the greens are artfully disguised by rich chocolatey goodness.Chocoberry Smoothie 001CHOCO-BERRY GREEN SMOOTHIE
Yield: 1 large smoothie
Vegan and gluten-free

Ingredients
1 cup water
1 frozen banana
1/2 cup frozen strawberries
2/3 cup frozen blueberries
2 large collard green leaves, torn into smaller pieces
1-2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (start with 1 and add more to taste)

Instructions
Add all ingredients, in the order shown, to a blender and blend from low to high until smooth and well-combined.

Substitutions

  • Any dark green leafy vegetable can be substituted for the collard greens (e.g., spinach, kale, or chard).  It should come out to about 2 packed cups full.  If you’re new to green smoothies, start with less and gradually work up to 2 cups.
  • Fresh fruit may be substituted for any of the frozen fruit.  You may want to add some ice if substituting more than one frozen ingredient.
  • Use non-dairy milk in place of the water for a richer, “milk chocolate” version.

Chocoberry Smoothie 003Yes, I did toss some chocolate chips on there for garnish.  And I’m not sad that chocolate chips were part of my breakfast.  Not sad at all.

Unsweetened cocoa is chock full of health benefits so you can definitely feel okay about having it for breakfast.  It is low in calories while being high in fiber, iron, copper, and magnesium.  It also naturally contains a hefty dose of antioxidants in the form of flavonoids.  Just be aware that many commercially-available varieties have had the flavonoids removed (our American food industry at work, ladies and gents).   [Sources: Livestrong and Metabolic Effect]

I know people often achieve similar smoothie results by for example adding chocolate protein powder to a smoothie.  Personally I have never encountered a protein powder (vegan or non-vegan) that I found palatable, so the cocoa powder works out great for me.

I can totally imagine feeding this smoothie to my kids someday for a little veggie boost at breakfast time.  [Hopefully my future children aren't reading this, but if they are--SURPRISE!  You ate a vegetable.  Mama only tricks you because she loves you.]

Weigh in: chocolate protein powder or unsweetened cocoa powder?

I am firmly in the cocoa camp!

NYC Hot Sauce Expo 2014

Last Saturday, H and I headed down to New York to attend the 2nd Annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo.NYC HSE 026
NYC HSE 001I was so SO excited about this event.  With over 45 vendors giving out hundreds of samples, how could a spicy food lover like me not be?

I can now tell you that it was even better than I had hoped it would be.

QUALITY
The level of quality of both the products and the vendors was outstanding.  I mean, really outstanding.  Even the hottest sauces and foods I tried were absolutely bursting with flavor.  The freshness of the ingredients and the care put into making the products was readily apparent at every turn.  I can’t recall consuming even one sub-par product the entire time I was there.
NYC HSE 013
NYC HSE 007Horseshoe was one of my favorite brands at the event.  Their kiwi jalapeno hot sauce might be the best thing I tried the whole day.  They also had the prettiest display!

VALUE
H and I purchased the Sweet Spot level tickets, which give you access to the vendors plus a free bottle of a sponsor’s hot sauce and 6 drink tokens per person that you can redeem at the bar for wine, Lagunitas beer, or cocktails.  These tickets cost $35 each. I don’t think I need to explain why this is an absurd value, especially in New York City.
NYC HSE 008Throughout the day you can try as many samples as you can handle (and that is included in your ticket, obviously), but each vendor also has bottles and bottles of product for purchase as well.  Fair warning that this can become expensive quickly, especially if, like me, you simply have to have every sauce that made you say “Mmm!” to take home.

VEGAN VALUE
The vast majority of the sample sauces are vegan, and sampling is done either on tortilla chips or with a small spoon.  So as far as the sampling goes, it really is a vegan-friendly event.   A few of the vendors (though fewer than I would have thought) had sauces containing bacon and a few more have sauces with honey (but again, fewer than I would have thought).  Another thing to watch out for is Worcestershire sauce (which typically contains anchovies), but outside of the Bloody Mary mixes this didn’t seem to crop up very often.
NYC HSE 012OTHER FOOD AND DRINK
Several of the vendors had food available to sample, some of it vegan (like spicy pretzels and sriracha popcorn) and some not (like beef jerky and Cabot cheese).  There was also some food available to purchase, the majority of which was not vegan (pulled pork sandwiches and tacos…although they did have a vegetarian taco option).  They had soft pretzels which looked pretty good (I didn’t try them), although some of them were wrapped in bacon or stuffed with something non-vegan.

They also had a number of stations selling (and also giving samples of) ice cream.  Imagine my utter shock and delight when I saw this:
NYC HSE 006
I will have much more to say about this company in a future post.  For now, all I need to tell you is that the almond marzipan flavor is out of this world.  H couldn’t stop raving about it.

LENGTH OF EVENT
The length of the event (10 a.m. – 7 p.m.) seemed like a lot but was actually perfect, for a couple of reasons.  First and foremost, you really can’t just sample hot sauces for 9 hours without a break [well, maybe you can, but I sure cannot!].  There were times when I felt like my face was actually melting, and it took me a good 20-30 minutes to cool back down, so having a nice long event meant that I still had plenty of time to get around to most or all of the vendors.

Second, the Expo got increasingly crowded as the day wore on, and the lines for the bathroom and bar lengthened accordingly (although this did correspond nicely with that 20-30 minute cooldown).

Third, as the event winds down, it is nice to have a little time to revisit booths that you particularly enjoyed and to chat with the vendors.  I met a lot of really interesting, passionate individuals and was grateful for the opportunity to learn a good deal about the art of hot sauce making and flavor development as well as their sourcing and production.
NYC HSE 017VENUE
The expo took place at the Penn Plaza Pavilion, which is on 7th Ave at 33rd Street, directly across the street from the train station.  It’s a fantastic, central location and very easy to travel to.

The space was definitely big enough to accommodate all of the vendors and attendees, but I thought the layout was kind of strange and a bit maze-like.  It seemed like there were several nooks and crannies where you’d unexpectedly encounter a vendor you hadn’t seen before, even though you’d already spent 4 hours walking around.  I’m not sure the layout was *bad* necessarily , but it was different from other expo-type events that I’ve been to.

I should mention that there was nowhere to put coats.  H tied his around his waist, and I had to carry mine over my arm the whole day, which made sampling a bit awkward at times.

There also was nowhere to sit down (although possibly there is if you buy the VIP tickets…I didn’t have one so I didn’t see if there were seats in that section), which I know might deter or, frankly, prevent some people from attending.  An old friend of H’s came to the event and the two of them ended up just sitting on the floor against a support beam to be able to chat and catch up.

[But none of this took away from the] FUN FACTOR
This event was SO much fun.  It’s full of an offbeat, niche crowd of pepperheads that really gets into the whole thing.  The vendors also appear to be having the time of their lives, and there’s plenty of silliness and puns to go around.NYC HSE 010NYC HSE 005NYC HSE 015H and I couldn’t stop talking on Sunday about what a great time we had.  We already can’t wait to go back next year!  In the meantime, we will not lack for hot sauce goodness, as we came home with and outlandish amount of hot sauce (THREE tote bags full) in every flavor imaginable.

In the coming weeks I will have posts highlighting some of the companies that stood out to me, including recipes/uses I’m inventing with some of the wonderful stuff we bought.  Stay tuned!

Simple Food for Stressful Times

Work, and life in general, have really ramped up in the last few weeks.  I’ve also been traveling way more than normal this past month (taking trips to Richmond, Florida, and NYC [recap coming soon!] in three consecutive weeks).  

As a result, I haven’t been doing a ton of cooking, mainly because I don’t want to leave leftovers sitting in the fridge while I’m away, but also because the idea of keeping things super-simple is just  so attractive when you’re going through crazy times.

My days have been looking something like this:

Breakfast:  Smoothie, made with all frozen ingredients.  This is a departure from my normal practice of combining fresh and frozen ingredients, but I have resisted buying a lot of fresh produce lately, because I’ve been out of town so often.

Morning Snack:  Grapefruit or a navel orange.  My mother-in-law receives shipments of the most wonderful citrus from Florida all winter long and generously shares these with us.  This comes in super-handy for quick snacking.
Light 008Lunch:  Soup or a tofu sandwich.  Soup is either defrosted from our freezer or from a can (I always keep a supply of Amy’s soups on hand).

Afternoon Snack(s):  I almost always have two snacks in the afternoon, one at work and the other pre-workout (if I’m hungry then) or post-workout while I’m getting dinner ready.  The standard of late has been 1/4 cup of homemade hummus with carrots and sugar snap peas (one of my favorite foods!), and 1/8 cup of soaked raw almonds (I just put them in a small container with water in the morning and they soak through the day).
Inner Beauty 003
Simple 001
Oh and if you have never had soaked almonds, you are missing out big time!

Dinner: Whatever is around!  On the nights I have cooked, it’s been something really easy, tried and true that H also loves (so I know there won’t be too much left over), like my Easiest Lentil Soup or the Red Lentil Cauliflower Curry from Veganomicon (one of the best recipes of all time).  I also always have cooked brown rice available (often in the fridge but always in the freezer) for making ultra-lazy “bowls” where I heat it up with some canned beans, spices, and steamed (or defrosted) veggies.Simple 002In this one I used Gardein buffalo “wings” that had been in the freezer for a while and added a lazy man’s “ranch” sauce that I made out of reduced fat Veganaise (which is unbelievably good, btw) mixed with some lemon juice, cumin, and dried dill.  [Note: these are not affiliate links, just links to the companies' websites so that anyone who's not familiar with the products can see what I'm talking about.]

It’s not the most exciting or glamorous daily menu but it’s been working fantastically for me during these busy times.

What simple meals help you through busy times? 

Spiced Tofu Cutlets

These cutlets were born out of a last minute, not-very-well-planned-out idea that I had at about 6 p.m. on St. Patrick’s Day to make tofu with the seasonings of corned beef.  Obviously the texture would be nowhere close but I still thought the flavors might work.

Well, turns out it tastes nothing like corned beef either, but it is still delicious so I’m sharing!  #WinningFail

Spiced Tofu Cutlets 002

SPICED TOFU CUTLETS
Yield: 2 servings (2 cutlets each)
Vegan and gluten-free

Ingredients
Juice of 1/2 of a lemon
1/2 tsp. salt
2 small bay leaves (or 1 large leaf torn in two)
1 small cinnamon stick, roughly broken up into shards
4 whole cloves
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/16 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. whole black peppercorns
1/2 tsp. black mustard seeds (yellow would be fine too)
1/2 tbsp. granulated sugar
1/2 block extra-firm tofu, pressed and cut into 4 slices
Additional salt for sprinkling

Directions
In a shallow dish, add lemon juice and salt and swirl around until salt is dissolved.

Add bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, allspice, peppercorns, mustard seeds, and sugar, and stir to combine and to distribute the ingredients evenly.

Add tofu to marinade and sprinkle the tops with salt.  Marinate for at least 10 minutes, then flip, sprinkle the other side with salt, and continue to marinate.

You can eat them right out of the marinade, or prepare them hot by pan-frying (the method I used) or grilling.  [This probably goes without saying, but please be sure to remove the bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves, and peppercorns before eating.  The mustard seeds are okay to eat whole.]

–x–

These are great on their own as a meal component.  I enjoyed mine with colcannon on the side:
Spiced Tofu Cutlets 004

And also on a sandwich with greens and a dab of dijon mustard:
Spiced Tofu Cutlets 006I’ve been loving this cheap, quick, versatile recipe lately, as things have been rather hectic in my neck of the woods.  More on that in an upcoming post…

Quick Ragnar Update
My training has completely stalled out over the past two weeks as I’ve been dealing with a strained hip flexor.  It doesn’t bother me at all except when I run so I’ve been trying to just rest, stretch, and cross-train.  It’s hard though and I’m getting worried that I won’t be ready for the race (which is only 6 weeks away)!  If anyone else has experience with this type of injury, I am open to any and all advice :)

 

Family Fun in Florida (and I’m Not Talking Disney)

Well hello!!  Even though I got back from Florida on Monday night, I actually haven’t had a single moment to put together any kind of blog post about my trip until now!

I should tell you up front that this trip was in many ways the exact opposite of my vegan food-filled trip to Richmond, meaning there isn’t a whole lot to recap in terms of eats.  I was only there for about 45 hours, and they were very family-oriented hours, so food was definitely secondary.

My grandmother and I took a 6 a.m. flight on Saturday morning which got us to Florida around 9 a.m.   The weather was incredible, but I didn’t spend much time outside, as the day was packed full of family time, including visiting with my great-aunt in West Palm Beach and getting together for dinner with cousins of my late grandfather in Boca Raton.  Odds and Ends 001We ate at a really nice Chinese restaurant called Uncle Tai’s in Boca.  I got the Hot and Spicy Tofu, which was pretty good, though very heavy on the ginger and scallions.  I didn’t take a picture because it was so super-dark in the restaurant.

The next morning, I got up early and went for a walk around our hotel area, collecting breakfast from around the nearby shopping plaza as follows:
Odds and Ends 004Coffee with soy milk from Panera, a local grapefruit, and a Naked juice

I found it a little odd that the plaza’s smoothie place didn’t open until noon.  People do like  smoothies for breakfast, do they not?

Anyway, after that it was time to go to a family reunion that was the main purpose of our trip.  This was a truly amazing gathering, where everyone present was descended from a line that begins with my great-great-great grandmother in Hungary.  She had eight children and twenty-two grandchildren.  Four of those grandchildren are still alive (in their nineties!) and all four were present at this reunion.Odds and Ends 006This is a picture of the eight children with their father (my great-great grandmother is the one in the center row all the way to the right):
Odds and Ends 005It was really a treat to learn so much about where my family comes from, look at amazing old photographs, and get to know so many new cousins.

The reunion lasted most of the day, so by the time we got back to the hotel, the sun was beginning to go down.  I took advantage of my one chance to sit by the pool!
Odds and Ends 010After that, I was getting hungry but my grandma wasn’t ready for dinner and wanted to relax, so I struck out for the one place I had found on HappyCow that really piqued my interest, a vegan restaurant called Darbster.Odds and Ends 011Odds and Ends 012I ordered take-out, but kind of wished I could have eaten there.  The place had a really cool vibe and I thought its animal print/safari animal themed decor was very chic and understated.

I had thought I was going to get either their Reuben or their Black and Blue Burger, but I ended up going with the Country Fried Steak special, which one employee highly recommended.
Odds and Ends 013
Barley and oat based “steak”Odds and Ends 014Collard greens and mashed potatoes (possibly…see note below)Odds and Ends 015Veggie Sausage Gravy

The “steak” had a pleasant, chewy texture and a nice, savory flavor.  The collards were tangy and flavorful, not the best I’ve had but not bad at all.  But I did not like the potatoes at all.  I’m actually not sure they were even potatoes because they had a strong taste similar to cooked carrots (something of which I’m not a fan) so I actually think they might have been mashed parsnips?  Either way, I didn’t like them and I didn’t eat them, which was sorta sad.  The real star was the veggie sausage gravy.  I wish there had been more!

Verdict: I’d definitely like to go back to Darbster, eat in the restaurant, and try the Reuben and maybe their palm crab cakes too!

After I finished dinner it was time to pack up and get to bed early in preparation for a 6:30 a.m. flight back to NJ.  Odds and Ends 016And that was basically the trip!  I had about 8 hours to spare between landing in NJ and my flight back to frigid Boston, which was great because I got to spend a little time with my parents.  My dad and I went out to lunch at  a Greek restaurant in Holmdel called It’s Greek to Me, where I ordered the Hummus special, which comes with a Greek salad (hold the feta).Odds and Ends 017It doesn’t get much better than that!

Believe it or not, I have another trip coming up this weekend, but this time it’s to NYC so you know there will be food finds to share :)

Potato Pride

This post is auto-publishing while I am still away in the Sunshine State.  Recap of the Florida trip coming soon!

So tell me, who doesn’t like potatoes?

Although potatoes have gotten a bad rep for being “fattening” or having too many carbs (guh, don’t even get me started on how stupid the low-carb movement is), as a whole food (read: not deep fried or drowned in cream and butter) they are actually very healthy and filled with vitamins and minerals!  [Not that there's anything wrong with french fries once in a while...]

Consider that a medium (2 1/4″ to 3 1/4″ diameter) russet potato has 168 calories, 3 g fiber, and 5 g protein, and is rich in vitamins and minerals like Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Folate, Iron, Magnesium, and Potassium.  It even contains Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.  [Source: NutritionData.com]

So, I feel pretty good about eating my potatoes.  And I fittingly spent last week (the Week of St. Patrick’s Day) doing just that!

In one of my favorite-ever recipes, Corned Bean Hash by Fettle Vegan:
Potato Power 001For this one, I used white kidney beans instead of red because I was inexplicably out of red [?!], and it was every bit as scrumptious.  Douse that puppy in ketchup and sriracha and go to work.  H loves this dish too.  I often make it for us as a hearty weekend breakfast.

And Colcannon:
Potato Power 003I have been making this dish every St. Patrick’s day for years now, using this recipe from Made Just Right, the Earth Balance blog.  I use the cabbage and leek variation rather than the kale and green onion called for in the main recipe (though I’m sure that would be great too).  I also add 1/2 tsp. garlic powder, and when serving I throw a generous sprinkle of nutritional yeast on top.  Potato Power 005This stuff is SO GOOD.  We both love it, and H particularly looks forward to having it every year.  Not that I couldn’t make it year-round (I mean it is really easy and really cheap), but I like the idea of having a special holiday dish that’s just once a year.

What is your favorite way to eat potatoes?  It’s okay if it’s french fries :)