Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Vegan Dining Out @ Aladdin's Cuisine

If you've been reading my blog for a while, then you might remember a post from a couple of months ago when I was traveling in Savannah, GA and dined at an authentic Middle Eastern restaurant and discovered falafel. I had never had falafel before, well good falafel anyway, and as soon as I tasted the real thing I knew I had discovered something that I loved. Well, I figured that you probably had to live in a town that at least resembled a big city in order to have a restaurant that served Middle Eastern food. I never dreamed that there would be such a place here where I work, in Kingsport, TN. But I was wrong. Who knew there was a place here that served falafel?

Aladdin's Cuisine is located right downtown and it is HUGE. 3 stories to be exact. It's right beside an oriental rug gallery. I think the same man owns both businesses. Anyway, the place is huge and the decor is over the top. Talk about some atmosphere. On the weekends they even have belly dancers. Not to talk bad about where I live, but it IS pretty redneck around here. So it's really amazing that there is such a restaurant here. I just can't imagine people who live around here being willing to try Middle Eastern food. But I guess some of them are. And since I discovered that falafel and hummus are usually safe vegan bets, well, they've made a new customer here too.

I started out by ordering the hummus as an appetizer. I am not lying when I say that this was absolutely the BEST hummus I have ever tasted in my life. They list the ingredients on the menu, and it's just the usual; chickpeas, tahini, garlic & lemon juice. But gosh it sure does taste good. My sever said that the cook was Iranian, so I guess that explains it. That guy just KNOWS how to make awesome hummus. Mmmmmmm... it was good. I only ate about half of it though and boxed the other half up to take home for later. How come my homemade hummus doesn't taste like this?

For my main course, I ordered the falafel. I was expecting it to come as a sandwich on some pita bread, but it didn't. Technically, this wasn't part of the lunch menu, so I guess this is really more of a formal dinner type of way to serve falafel. Anyway, this was also DELICIOUS. It came with a tahini sauce, which I had to confirm didn't contain any dairy (I was afraid there might have been yogurt in it). It was vegan though. It was just tahini thinned out with some olive oil & vinegar. YUM!

The entire meal was EXACTLY what I wanted, yummy Middle Eastern food, and it was DELICIOUS. It was expensive for lunch ($10.95 for the falafel and $5.95 for the hummus), but I wasn't ordering from the lunch menu, and I normally wouldn't have ordered both the hummus AND falafel by myself, but I wanted to try both. I had plenty of both dishes left over to pack up and take home for dinner.

Overall, I was extremely impressed with the restaurant, both the decor and the food. It's a place that I definitely want to eat at again, and I would like to bring some of my coworkers who aren't familiar with Middle Eastern cuisine here too so they can see how delicious the food is. This is one cool restaurant, and I didn't even know it was here. What a wonderful discovery.

So there you have it, my delicious, and HUGE!, Middle Eastern lunch for Wednesday.

I'll be back tomorrow with the lunchbox. See you then!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Homemade Veggie Burger

After a nice long Memorial Day weekend, I was exhausted (too much sun & too many margaritas). So I took the easy way out with today's lunchbox and just cooked up the last homemade veggie burger that I had in the freezer. I actually made a BUNCH of these things from the recipe at Bunnyfoot's blog on Thursday and took them with me to the campground this weekend. I ended up feeding several of them to some omnivores and even they liked them. Of course, I jazzed them up with Vegenaise, lettuce, pickle, tomato and onion. For the lunchbox today though, I was just in the mood for a pickle.

I doubled the batch and made several veggie burgers and then wrapped them individually in plastic wrap and froze them. Then all I had to do to prepare them was defrost them really quickly in the microwave and throw them in a skillet for a few minutes to brown them up real nice on the outside since they're really already cooked when you bake them initially. I poured on lots of vegan Worcestershire sauce and Montreal Steak Seasoning while grilling them just to make them taste extra yummy.

This is the same recipe that I was tinkering around with a couple of months ago when I got all stirred up and said that I was going to mess around with the recipe until I perfected it into the perfect veggie burger recipe. Well, needless to say, I haven't done that yet. There's just not enough hours in a day, you know. They really are yummy just the way they are though, so I really enjoyed them this weekend, as did everyone else who tried them.

While I was eating them this weekend though, I started wondering if it was really worth it to spend all that time making veggie burgers when a nice grilled Portobello cap probably would have been just as good. Maybe I'll try that next weekend.

Anyway, to go with my burger, I just brought along some french fries that I baked up in the oven. And then I've got a Cashew Cookie Larabar for dessert.

Needless to say, I didn't lose any more weight this week. I ate too much during the holiday weekend. I have been keeping up with my walking though, so I haven't gained any back, but if I want to lose more weight, and get down to my goal of 185, then I'm going to have to start cutting back. So I'm still at 197 lbs. with a total weight loss so far of 28 lbs. I guess I've just gotten too comfortable with my eating since I lost that initial weight. I may need to start counting Weight Watchers Points again or something. At any rate, there's no new weight loss to report, but no gain either.

So I guess that does it for Tuesday's post. I can't decide if I want to pack the lunchbox tomorrow or go out and eat because I just discovered a new restaurant here in town and I couldn't believe that it existed right here. If I end up going there tomorrow I'll share it here on the blog because the fact that a restaurant like this is located around here where I live just blows my mind. I'm pretty sure that I'd like to try it out tomorrow, so brace yourself. :o)

I hope everybody had a great weekend. See you back here tomorrow!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Baked Italian Hummus

Okay, this post is gonna' have to be filed under DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. I was so proud of myself last night while I was making this because I thought I had a really good idea how to recycle a vegan dish that I had a large amount of, but it ended up not working out as well as I thought it might have. So let me save you the trouble of trying this and just let you know that today's recipe is probably not worth trying. :o(

I had so much of that Creamy Chickpea & Tahini Casserole left over from yesterday's lunch that I tried to think of other ways to use it. I got to thinking about the fact that it contained a lot of chickpeas and tahini and I was like, "HUMMUS!"

I love hummus, the regular kind that is, and the kind with roasted red peppers added. So I thought this might be good if I just took some of the leftover casserole and plopped it into the food processor and whirred it into hummus. Since it would basically be hummus with tomatoes & Italian seasonings mixed in, and it was baked, I decided that a name like Baked Italian Hummus might be good.

Well, that might be a good name, but it really didn't end up being a very good dish. The tomato & Italian seasonings tastes are good in this when served HOT as a casserole. They are not so good if you serve it cold as hummus. It wasn't completely revolting or anything, I could eat it. But if it were something that I had ordered in a restaurant, I would make sure to never order it again. So needless to say, I won't be making it again either.

The color came out kinda' icky too. It's almost pink. Obviously, that didn't make it taste any better. I just brought some homemade tortilla chips that I baked up in the oven to eat with it. At least they are really good.

I also brought along some more mixed vegetables from the freezer to finish filling the lunchbox.

If this recipe had turned out decent, I was actually planning on thinning some of the "hummus" down with some soy milk and making a sauce for pasta with it for tomorrow's lunchbox. But as you might guess, I won't be doing that now. Just the thought of it... eww...

But don't let this debacle deter you from trying the original casserole recipe, it is WONDERFUL! Just don't try turning it into hummus. Not too good.

I'm actually going to be taking a break from blogging tomorrow (Friday) and Monday since it's a holiday weekend and I won't be going to work. I'll probably just end up eating some sammiches at the house so I won't bore you with those. If I accidentally whip up anything wonderful I might do a quick post, but that probably won't happen because I plan on taking it easy these next four days and doing absolutely NOTHING except laying by the pool.

So thanks for reading the blog this week and I'll see everybody next Tuesday back at work with the lunchbox (with something GOOD in it).

Have a GREAT holiday weekend!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Creamy Chickpea & Tahini Casserole

Today I've got a new item in the lunchbox from a recipe that I recently discovered online. It sounded so yummy, and it had such good reviews and it had the words "comfort food" in the description, so I HAD to try it. The reviews were right, this is a really yummy recipe, and cheap too. Plus, it makes a TON of food, so it's really good for eating on several days or feeding a really large group. And like the recipe says, it's really open to modification. I imagine a nice crusty topping of bread crumbs or corn flakes would really be delicious on this. Of course, it's yummy just the way it is.

Creamy Chickpea & Tahini Casserole
is really easy to make. It just involves mixing some chickpeas, onions, some brown rice, a few spices and some tahini and then baking it. It's one of the easiest recipes that I've tried but boy does it taste good. This is something that I would like to make this year at Thanksgiving and take to my parents' home for everybody to try. I know they would like it.

My mind is also racing with other ideas of how to modify the leftovers to turn it into other dishes for subsequent lunches. I have an idea for something to try tomorrow, so I guess I'll do it and see how it turns out. I even have another idea for Friday, so if my first experiment ends up being edible then I may even try another. At any rate, this recipe made a huge tasty pan of food. It's pretty healthy too. If I weren't trying to have something different every day for my blog, I could probably just make pans of this stuff and live on it.

Anyway, to go along with the casserole I just brought some more vegetable mixes from the freezer, as well as some blueberries for dessert.

So that's basically it for today's lunch. I really like making casseroles since they are usually so easy to make and they make so much food that I can eat on them for several days. This one turned out really good (the reviews were right!) and it's definitely something that I will be making again in the future. I am also hopeful that the couple of modifications that I have in mind mean that I'll be able to squeeze a couple more different meals from this one huge dish. I hope it turns out as good as I think it will. Stay tuned to find out...

So thanks for reading my blog today. See everybody tomorrow!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Vegan Dining Out @ Giuseppe's

Well, I had to go out for lunch today with the group from work. We were celebrating someones new assignment in a different area so, of course, that person got to pick the restaurant. Lucky for me, they chose Giuseppe's, which is a local Italian restaurant. You might remember a post from the past where I ate at another local Italian place called Raffaele's. Well, this place is owned by the same family, except it's a little more upscale, and a little pricier. That really didn't matter for me though because the boss ended up paying for it. WOO-HOO! Free vegan lunch!

I knew we were going out to eat today, so I really skimped on breakfast because I knew I would probably be eating a lot at lunch. I just had a couple of pieces of light toast since I didn't want to skip breakfast altogether since that's not so good for your metabolism. So by the time lunch rolled around I was starving. I was so hungry in fact, that I forgot to take a picture of my salad because I inhaled it at soon as it hit the table. At any rate, it was just a simple salad since I had all the non-vegan ingredients left off, so you're not really missing anything. It was good though, and I just got the individual bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dress my salad with. The balsamic vinegar that they had was extremely good. It was quite a bit sweeter than most others I have tried. It was so good I was passing it all around the table and several other people enjoyed it as well.

I ended up ordering a dish off the menu called Pasta Toscana. I asked for them to make it vegan by leaving off the cream sauce and just giving me the pasta & veggies stirred up some olive oil and roasted garlic. There's bowtie pasta with shiitake mushrooms, spinach, sundried tomatoes and walnuts in there. YUMMY! It was kinda' funny though because I was trying to tell the server that I needed my food to be modified since I'm a vegan and she said, "What? You're a villain?" I'm not sure that she ever even really got it because after I asked for the omission of the cream sauce, she asked me if I wanted chicken on it. Um, no. Anyway, I was worried about what I might get, but it came out exactly like I asked for it to, and it was delicious! Several people in my group eyed my plate and commented that my food looked really good. I think one or two of them might have been envious of the vegan food today.

Anyway, it ended up being a really nice lunch and I was extremely pleased with what I ordered. It tasted really, really good. I'm gonna have to be extra good for dinner tonight to make up for eating so much for lunch though. Maybe just a green smoothie or something. Although I am going to try a new recipe that I've been wanting to try tonight so I can have something new in the lunchbox tomorrow. It's fairly healthy, so perhaps I will indulge in a little bit of that dish later this evening. It sounds like a really good recipe and I am excited to try it and share it here on the blog.

So thanks for coming by the blog today.

I'll be back with the lunchbox tomorrow. See you then!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Vegan Buffalo Chicken Sandwich

Unfortunately, I saw a commercial for a certain fast food chain this weekend and they were advertising their new Buffalo Chicken sandwich. Well, that's all it took. I absolutely love Frank's Hot Sauce and welcome any opportunity to eat it. So, I just whipped up my own vegan version of this sandwich for my lunchbox today.

All I did was pack a Boca Chik'n Patty along with a light bun and a small container of Frank's Hot Sauce. I guess, technically, to make buffalo sauce, you are supposed to mix equal parts of the hot sauce and melted margarine, but I certainly don't want to add that many calories and that much fat to my lunch, so I just use the hot sauce by itself.

I love to make vegan versions of hot wings too. I had one version, using seitan, here on the blog quite a while ago. I also made a different version once using tempeh after seeing it demonstrated by a few people on various other message boards & blogs. I just love the flavor of the hot sauce, and the more fumes the better.

To go along with my sandwich, I brought a couple of containers of different steamed vegetables. The larger container has broccoli, cauliflower & carrots while the smaller container has peas, corn, carrots and green beans. Lucky for me, I like my veggies. And these just came from the freezer, so all I did was pour them straight out of the bags and then I'll heat them up a lunchtime in the microwave.

To finish filling the lunchbox, I threw in a few raw cashews. I think cashews are probably my favorite nut. I have to watch myself when I eat them though because I don't have very good self control around them. They do fill me up though, I guess because of the fat content, so that's one reason why I like to add them to the lunchbox. Well, they taste good too. Sometimes I eat them with my lunch, kinda' like dessert, but sometimes, if there's enough other stuff to fill me up at lunch, I like to leave the nuts and have them later in the day, like around 2PM, as a nice snack. Just depends on how ravenous I am at lunchtime.

So that does it for Monday. It was such a pretty day yesterday that I didn't want to spend too much time in the kitchen cooking, so after seeing that commercial and getting all stirred up about buffalo sauce, I took the easy way out and slung together this simple, but tasty, vegan sandwich.

I'll have to take my camera to work with me again tomorrow because the whole group is going out to lunch again. Sure does seem like we go out for lunch an awful lot at work doesn't it? HA! I think we're going to a local Italian place, so it should be pretty easy for me to find something good to eat there.

Whoops! I almost forgot. It's Monday and time for another weight loss update. And I guess the reason I almost forgot is because, unfortunately, there's nothing new to report this week. I still weigh 197 lbs. So I didn't lose any additional weight last week. That's okay because I know as I get closer and closer to my goal of 185 it will be harder and harder to get the pounds to come off. I am also discovering that it's going to be more challenging to continue to lose weight now that the weather is so beautiful and there are all of these opportunities to overindulge popping up left and right. I am really going to have to be careful and buckle down if I want to make it to 185. I HAVE still lost a total of 28 lbs. though, so I'm not discouraged. I realize it's going to be more difficult from here on out. I've just gotta' stick with it.

So thanks for checking out the blog today. See everybody tomorrow!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Black Bean & Vegan Cheese Nachos

Today's lunchbox was really easy to put together. That's good too, because I had plans yesterday evening and didn't want to spend a whole lot of time cooking and worrying about the next day's lunch. With all of the Mexican cooking over the last few days, I had lots of leftovers stored in the fridge. So it was no trouble at all to go through and combine a few of those items to create some delicious Black Bean & Vegan Cheese Nachos.

In fact, everything in the lunchbox is a leftover from the previous couple of days worth of cooking, except for the tortilla chips. Just move your pointer over each item in the lunchbox and text boxes will pop up and tell you what each item is. You might remember a while back when I brought some nachos for lunch and I had a hard time locating baked tortilla chips here where I live. I don't know what it was, but for some reason, none of the local stores that I checked had any baked tortilla chips, so I ended up getting fried ones last time. This time, however, I took matters into my own hands and baked my own tortilla chips. That way, I can cut the fat, to help me with my weight loss, plus they taste a hundred times better anyway when you make them yourself.

All I did was spray a cookie sheet with some canola oil and then use a pizza cutter to cut corn tortillas into little triangle shapes. I normally just cut them into fourths, but since these were for the lunchbox, where space is valuable, I made them a little bit smaller by cutting the tortillas into six pieces. Then I just placed all of those little triangles on the cookie sheet and sprayed the tops of them with a little more canola oil. A quick dusting of salt and they were ready for the oven. I like to use big chunky salt on my chips, it just seems to taste so much better. And not surprisingly, the best salt I've found to sprinkle on my homemade tortilla chips is coarse margarita salt. I just bake the chips in a 425 degree oven for 10 minutes or so. Just watch them until they get nice and brown and crispy. Be careful not to burn them because they can burn on you pretty quickly.

These homemade chips taste so much better than storebought, and they are so much healthier.

So that's really it for Friday's lunchbox. That was one of the easiest lunches I've packed since almost everything was a leftover from a previous day's cooking. That's one of the things I like about Mexican food, with just a few different ingredients you can combine them in all kinds of ways to make different dishes. And speaking of Mexican dishes, I FINALLY finished that Cheesy Bean & Cheese Enchilada Casserole last night. Geez, I ate on that thing for DAYS. It was good though, and I'll definitely be making it again. And that vegan cheese sauce from that recipe is my current favorite vegan cheese replacement. It's so easy to make, and so yummy. I do like to add a little extra salt to it though, and a little bit of salsa to make it turn orange in color so it looks more like cheese sauce.

Well, thanks for reading the blog this week. See everybody on Monday.

Have a great weekend!