Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Favorite Asian Market Mock Meats

Asian markets are amazing! The variety of mock meats, alone, is astounding. And prices for mock meats are generally less than half of what you’d pay at a regular or natural food store. Here are my favorite picks:

At the market, you’ll find all forms of tofu: fresh, baked, fried, puffed, string, dried, and seasoned. My favorite form to pick up at the Asian market is fried tofu. Save yourself from cutting, pressing, and frying fresh tofu, and just pick up a package of fried tofu. Go ahead and join the legions of lazies.

Seitan is generally found in cans at Asian market. Oh, and there are lots of them - vegetarian abalone, vegetarian pork, vegetarian chicken, and vegetarian duck are just a few of the styles. They’re all a little different in taste and texture. I’ve found that I like the vegetarian chicken and the vegetarian duck. What I like the most is that a 10-ounce can currently costs $1.49 at my market - super cheap compared to buying White Wave at the natural food store.

The most entertaining section is the frozen food aisle. Amongst the more mundane veggie hot dogs and chicken nuggets, you’ll find packages of mock meats in the style and shape of fish, eel, shrimp, whole chickens, logs of ham, lobster, and just about anything you can imagine. (Vegetarian ear, anyone?) This is where I suggest open-minded experimentation, but be forewarned that some are weird.

There are some gems, though. My absolute, all-time favorite mock meat buy at the Asian market are the frozen packets of Citrus Spareribs from May Wah in NY. These soy-based nuggets don't look exactly like spare ribs (check the intro picture), but have an exceptionally chewy texture, making them more meat-like than most mock meats. The sauce is the best part, though. It’s spicy and sweet - similar to the sauce on general Tso’s chicken or sparerib bbq sauce. (Imagine that!) Slosh some water around the empty package to make use of all the sauce, add to your stir fry, and you’re golden.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Secret Word = Curdlan

So, I bought a package of mock shrimp from the Asian market in hopes of doing something with it after my pleasant experience with mock shrimp. I would have liked to have had fried shrimp, but I’m not a home-fryer. I thought about having shrimp and grits (yumminess), but never got around to it. I ended up doing the simplest thing with them – throwing the shrimp unseasoned, and uncooked in spring rolls.

The shrimp weren’t bad, but a greasy layer of fat would have definitely helped the flavor. (All right, they were downright weird. I’ll leave mock shrimp to the restaurants.) The mock shrimp had the texture of shrimp, but smelled oddly sweet, and even tasted a little sweet – and odd. Here’s the strange part, though. I flip the package over to read the ingredients, and all is looking familiar except for one item – curdlan.

What the heck is curdlan? I look it up (love the computer) and this is what it says: “Curdlan gum is a microbial fermentation extracellular polymer prepared commercially from a mutant strain of Alcaligenes faecalis var. myxogenes.” I’m not a scientist, but I think that means that it’s a weird substance from weird bacteria. So, it’s at least natural.

What does it do? “Curdlan gum is tasteless and produces retortable freezable food elastic gels.” Ok, so it makes things gell-like and thickens things (curdling). Curdlan was approved by the FDA in 1996 as a formulation aid, processing aid, stabilizer and thickener or texturizer for use in food.

Scroll down a bit on the search page and I see curdlan and WHO (World Health Organization). Why do they care about curdlan as a food additive? Oh, this was a fun read! They studied the effects of curdlan on rats, lots of other animals, and humans. In short, it says it's safe; hence it’s in my mock shrimp. Although, you may experience constipation, increased flatulence, occasional diarrhea, weight loss…..

Don’t be scared of curdlan. I had never heard of it, looked it up, and thought it interesting. Here’s a list of things you may find curdlan in. Keep your eyes peeled and scream when you find it. It’ll be kinda like Pee Wee Herman’s “secret word” game. Curdlan. Aaaaagghhhh!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

New Harmony

New Harmony is one of a handful of kosher vegan Chinese restaurants in Philadelphia’s Chinatown. I often get Kingdom of Vegetarians and Cherry Street Vegetarian (the other veggie Chinese restaurants) confused with each other, as I’ve visited both a few times, but not frequently, since I have to be in the mood for Chinese. I know for a fact that I’ve never been to New Harmony, so I gave it a try a while back.

It turns out that Kingdom of Vegetarians and New Harmony are owned by the same people and have the same menu, so perhaps there was no need for me to seek out New Harmony. Maybe someone who eats Chinese more frequently than I do can chime in about any differences.

First off, let me just say…nice touch with the spray painted sign on the awning! It truly did help me hone in on the place as I walked down the street searching. Once inside I was not surprised to find a typical, casual Chinese joint – nothing fancy. And New Harmony is no different than other vegetarian Chinese restaurants – mock meat everywhere! I normally get General Tso’s chicken when dining at Chinese places because I like the sweet and spicy sauce. Nostalgia told me to order sweet and sour pork – my favorite when I was a child. I loved the thick, syrupy, bright red sauce covering the fried nuggets of pork. I was sorely disappointed to find the sauce at New Harmony to be thin, watery, and not bright red. The fried balls of seitan/tofu/what-ever were fine, but it’s the sauce that makes sweet and sour pork. Waahh.

I had read raves about the jumbo fried shrimp with glazed walnuts, so my partner ordered this dish. Rave, indeed! The mock shrimp had an uncanny resemblance in texture and taste to the real thing, and the sauce was sweet and garlicky. When I became a vegetarian in high school, the only meat I did not give up for the first year was fried shrimp – I loved them so. We never really ate much seafood at home, and rarely dined out, so, after a year, I lost interest in shrimp, and that was that.

Now I’m craving fried shrimp, thanks to New Harmony. At least, I know were to get the next best thing. Sweet and sour mock pork? Not so much.

New Harmony, 135 N. 9th St., Philadelphia 19107(215)627-4520
Daily, 11:30am-11:30pm

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Thai-Style Chicken Soup

The Thai-style chicken soup featured in the Jan/Feb 2007 issue of Cook's Illustrated Magazine is my new favorite soup! I’ve made it three times already! (Well, my partner made it twice, and I made it once.)

Mushrooms and chicken (seitan) swim in the rich, creamy, coconut-based broth infused with lemon grass and lime. Red curry paste and chiles add a pleasant spiciness.

The first time
we made the soup, we followed the recipe to a tee, with the exception of substituting vegetable broth for chicken broth, seitan for chicken, and soy sauce for fish sauce to make the dish vegetarian.

The second time
, we added thin rice noodles to the soup for bulk.

The third time, we added rice. We also substituted low-fat coconut milk for whole coconut milk, and green curry paste for red curry paste.

I liked the addition of rice the best. Low-fat coconut milk is obviously not as rich as whole coconut milk, but does not compromise the soup. Pick your favorite curry paste. I have no preference for green or red curry paste, so enjoyed them both equally.

Thai-Style Chicken Soup
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
serves 4

1 teaspoon vegetable oil
3 lemon grass stalks, bottom tender 5 inches halved lengthwise and sliced thinly
3 shallots, chopped
8 sprigs of cilantro, chopped coarsely
3 tablespoons soy sauce (originally fish sauce)
4 cups vegetable broth (originally chicken broth)
2 (14-ounce) cans coconut milk
1 tablespoon sugar
½ pound button mushrooms, sliced
1 pound seitan, sliced or cubed (originally boneless, skinless chicken breast)
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 teaspoons Thai red curry paste

½ cup cilantro leaves
2 serrano chiles, thinly sliced
2 scallion, thinly sliced
1 lime, cut into wedges

  • Heat oil in a large saucepan and add lemon grass, shallots, cilantro, and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce. Cook over medium heat until softened, 2-5 minutes.
  • Add vegetable broth and 1 can of coconut milk; bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Pour broth through a fine-mesh sieve and discard solids. Return broth to saucepan.
  • Add remaining can of coconut milk and sugar to broth and bring to a simmer.
  • Reduce heat to medium, add mushrooms, and cook 2-3 minutes.
  • Add seitan, and cook for another 1-3 minutes. Remove from heat.
  • Combine lime juice, curry paste, and remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce in a small bowl; add to soup.
  • Garnish individual soup-filled bowls with cilantro, chiles, and scallions. Serve soup with lime wedges.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


I’m a woman of my word, so finally got around to sampling Delilah’s Winder’s mac and cheese. If you remember, I posted a while back about the defeat handed down to Delilah by Bobby Flay of Food Network fame.

Delilah has a sit-down restaurant, Bluezette, and booth at Reading Terminal Market, Delilah’s at the Terminal. Reading Terminal Market is essentially a huge food court (over 80 merchants housed under 1.7 acres) in downtown Philly, except you won’t find Subway and Burger King inside – only local vendors. Not feeling like a whole meal, I trekked backwards, barefoot, in the snow to Reading Terminal Market in Philly to hunt down Delilah’s booth, and sample a side of mac and cheese. (Nah, I pulled my snow shoes on, and faced forward.)

Oprah declared Delilah’s mac and cheese the best in the country in 2003, but that woman must be off her rocker. Delilah’s mac and cheese is not bad, but it’s nothing exceptional, and hardly worth the almost $4 it cost for a little cup of this side dish. It looks, feels, and tastes like any mac and cheese you’d get in a Southern diner. It’ll do in a pinch, is a hundred times better than Kraft, and ten times better than something out of a cafeteria, but doesn’t hold a candle to any mac and cheese casserole found at a Southern family reunion.

I can only hope that Delilah’s mac and cheese is taken up a notch at her sit-down restaurant. I also suggest Oprah take a vacation to Mississippi, visit with the family, and eat some good food.

Delilah’s at the Terminal, 1136 Arch St, Philadelphia 19107, (215)574-0929
Mon.-Sat. 11am-5pm; Sun. 9am-4pm

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Off With Their Balls

The roads were too icy on Valentine’s Day to drive into Philly and have dinner with my partner. Disappointed and mad, I decided to cut off someone’s balls. Someone had to pay! (Actually, I could care less about Valentines.)

Besides Crazy Squirrel, homeless cats also like to hang out on my back porch. (It's a veritable zoo out there.) A nice man a few doors down that volunteers with animals has adopted many cats, but a new male showed up to my porch a few weeks ago. He’s the biggest love-bug, and cries and cries for attention. He was breaking my heart. I can’t take another cat because my one cat is older and a bit of a loner. Plus, my partner is allergic to cats.

So, for Valentine's day I’m sponsoring his ball-whacking party, and then he’s off to Petco for adoption thanks to the help of Faithful Friends, a no-kill facility in my city. I know I’m preaching to the choir, but please don’t get a pet if you can’t take care of it. And, for god’s sake, get rid of their balls - they’re ugly. No one wants to see that shit.

If you like cats, go visit I Can Has Cheezburger? and laugh your balls off.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

XIX Nineteen

Valentine’s Day came early, as my partner and I took advantage of the “Sweetheart Package” from the Pennsylvania Ballet this weekend. The package included a three course dinner at XIX Nineteen, and a show at the ballet for a price that couldn’t be beat. I was very excited, having not seen a ballet since I was younger, and at having the chance to dine in a swanky restaurant in which I would otherwise not.

XIX is the highest restaurant in Philadelphia, located on the nineteenth floor (hence the name) of the Park Hyatt Hotel on the corners of Walnut and Broad Street, smack-dab in the center of the city. You would never know that the restaurant is up there, unless you paid very close attention to a few small signs. Getting there is no small feat, either. First you must enter the building’s lobby, go up the elevator to the nineteenth floor, and follow signs painted on the wall for a couple of turns through dark hallways, which open up to an ambiguous room (Is this hotel check-in or restaurant check-in?), which, in turn, opens up to the restaurant.

Besides the elevation factor, XIX’s other drawing points are its panoramic views of the city, and a swanky interior. All of this makes for a classic date spot or an “impress the boss” spot. Two grand rotunda’s with 36-foot high domes, one serving as the café area and the other serving as the restaurant area, are connected by a room in which the bar is located.

The circular café area serves breakfast and a more affordable light fare for lunch and into the late night, but does not look like your typical café. I would still be impressed if taken on a date to dine at the café.

Walk down the hall past an open dessert kitchen, and you’ll find the bar. The bar is dark and luxurious, with a marble fireplace, brown leather sitting nooks, high backed chairs, and sofas. I felt as if I were in a mansion as I sipped my sweet raspberry mojito, and my partner enjoyed his gin before dinner.

Walk down the hall a little further past a wine tasting room surrounded by illuminated display cases, and the grand dining room opens up before you. The room is surrounded by huge, floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the city. In the center is a circular raw bar with a nineteen-foot wide “pearl necklace” chandelier draped above.

XIX serves contemporary American food with emphasis on fish. Since I was dining as part of a package, I chose from a prix fixe menu. I was impressed (delighted) to see that the prix fixe menu included a vegetarian starter and appetizer. There are so many great package deals at restaurants (especially during restaurant week), but the menus almost never include vegetarian options. Restaurants should change that. If you lure me in to a restaurant that I normally would not eat at (the whole point of restaurant week), I’m more likely to return. Vegetarians spend money, too.

For a starter, I chose a baby beet salad with local goat cheese, arugula and croûtons. The crunchy croûtons provided a great texture contrast with the tender beets. My partner chose the Creaser salad, as he was in the mood for greens.

For the main course, we both chose the roasted blue hubbard squash ravioli with truffled celeriac puree, parsley pesto, pine nuts, and aged gruyere. Absolutely delicious. I find squash ravioli and the accompanying sauces at many place can be too sweet and taste a bit like dessert, but this dish was perfect.

For dessert, we both ordered the chocolate layer cake with mandarin sauce, candied orange compote, and chocolate ice cream. The cake was exquisite. Unfortunately, we were running late for the ballet because we partook in pre-dinner drinks at the bar, so had to rush through dessert. I would have preferred to linger over dessert, but, instead, shoveled all of my cake and ice cream, plus my partner’s half-eaten cake, into my mouth and ran off to the show.

XIX Nineteen, 200 S. Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19102, (215)790-1919
Mon.-Fri., 6am-1am; Sat., 7am-1am; Sun., 7am-2:30pm

Friday, February 9, 2007

Banana Bunker

I eat a banana almost every morning, but I never take them to work with me because I hate how they get banged up and bruised. Not any more! This Banana Bunker was appropriately found over at Cool Tools. Too cool!

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Naked Chocolate Café

Update: no longer open.

Back in the fall (it takes a while to write some reviews), after a long morning of moving furniture, bad traffic, and grumpy spats with my partner, I figured a relaxing and indulgent trip to
Naked Chocolate Café , a chocolate bistro and lounge in Center City Philadelphia, was in order.

The interior of Naked Chocolate looks like an elegant bistro with much emphasis on sweet delicacies: chocolate candies, truffles, chocolate-dipped fruits, cupcakes, pastries, and other desserts. We must have hit chocolate rush hour, because there wasn’t an empty table in the house, and the line of waiting customers completely obscured the glass display cases. After bopping back and forth between customers to peek at the offerings, I decided on a vanilla cupcake with pastel green frosting and a small European-style drinking chocolate, their signature drink. My partner chose the spicy Aztec drinking chocolate, infused with cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

We ordered our treats to-go since there wasn’t a seat in the house, much less standing room, but by the time we got our treats (not long) the place had cleared out and we decided to sit down. By ordering to-go, we missed on the formalities of having the cupcake presented on a plate and the drinking chocolate served in small, espresso-sized cups. Instead, I got a cupcake in a box, and what seemed like a huge paper cup with a smidge of hot chocolate in the bottom. Presentation is key; I wish we had ordered to eat in.

Drinking chocolate is extremely thick and meant to be sipped. The café offers three sizes: petite, indulgent, and “we’ll never tell.” You can really only stand to drink a little, so I imagine they chose the name for the larger size not because you're being naughty, but because it will kill you and then they'll have to dispose of your body.

I enjoyed the first few sips of my drinking chocolate, and my partner’s spicy drinking chocolate even more. Then I began to feel ill. The chocolate was so thick; I imagined I was drinking straight melted chocolate. Instead of an experience of sensual indulgence, it was more like gluttonous sin. Not in the good way, but in an icky way. (Let me add that I have enjoyed drinking chocolate before, I will eat anything chocolate, and have no inhibitions about eating rich desserts.) I wish I had ordered the American hot chocolate. I apparently was in the mood for a chocolate beverage, not melted chocolate.

If you need to fulfill your chocolate desires, this is the place to do it. All of the chocolates and desserts are made daily in their open kitchen. (My cupcake was delish, by the way.) Just be forewarned that, while the drinking chocolate is good, it is rich and better thought of as dessert and not a beverage. I knew this, and still went wrong.

Naked Chocolate Café, 1317 Walnut St., Philadelphia, 19107
10am-11pm; Sun., 11am-9pm;

Monday, February 5, 2007

Trader Joe's Find

While dodging mean-eyed moms at Trader Joes this weekend, my eyes landed on boxes of frozen, individual, chocolate chip cookie dough. I’ve never seen them at Trader Joes, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been around. (They’re famous for having products go M.I.A. for long stretches.)

These insta-cookies are great for late nights, watching bad TV, and when you have, um…those unexplained cravings. Just pop a few in the oven, and 15 minutes later you have warm, sweet, greasy (yes, I found them greasy) love. Now, I don’t think these are any better than the Pillsbury refrigerated, I’m-a-lazy-parent cookies (in the lazy department), but somehow TJ’s convinces you that their products are as good as expensive lines (TJ’s cookie dough is made from natural ingredients and taste good, unlike Pillsbury), yet you’re getting them for a steal. I’m guilty of falling for their marketing, so I grabbed the cookie dough. What can I say? I like lazy, cheap, warm, sweet, greasy love. Mmm.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Vietnamese Hot And Sour Soup

I’ve been known to do some crazy things for food – like drive over three hours to eat at a favorite restaurant. Sometimes these trips are shorter. When I lived in SC, I would make the 1 ½ hour trip to Charlotte, NC to eat at Huong Viet, an excellent Vietnamese restaurant tucked away in a dinky strip mall. What dish made me drive so far? The hot and sour soup! This soup had to be good, because there's nothing to do in Charlotte, and I don’t normally order soup at restaurants, much less drive over an hour to eat soup.

This hot and sour soup has a tanginess that is imparted by tamarind (key ingredient), and is chock full of tofu, veggies, and pineapple. This is one of my favorite soups, but, it turns out, it may not be your favorite. I raved about this soup to my partner, and when he tasted it he was unimpressed. He also didn’t like the pineapple, which is my favorite part of the soup. I’ll put the recipe out there, though, in case there’s someone else out there that would enjoy the soup. This is not Huong Viet’s recipe, but one I found that is similar. I have no idea where I got the recipe from; I’ve been using it for about ten years.

Vietnamese Hot And Sour Soup

3 tablespoons tamarind pulp
1 shallot
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ tablespoon chili paste
½ medium onion, cut coarsely
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
5 cups water
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup pineapple, cut into chunks
1 can straw mushrooms, drained and rinsed
½ can baby corn, cut lengthwise, drained and rinsed
½ pound tofu, fried
3 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges
tops of celery with leaves
1-2 cups mung bean sprouts
fresh basil

  • Pour ½ cup of boiling water over tamarind pulp and let soak for 30 minutes. Drain and save water from pulp. Discard pulp.
  • Heat oil, and fry shallot. Set aside.
  • Add chili, onion, garlic, and soy sauce to hot pan and sauté.
  • Add water, reserved tamarind juice, sugar, lime juice, and salt to sautéed onion mix, and bring to a boil for a couple of minutes.
  • Right before serving, add pineapple, mushrooms, baby corn, tofu, tomatoes, celery tops, and bean sprouts. You don’t want to really cook the vegetables, or else the tomatoes will fall apart, and the celery leaves and bean sprouts will lose their crunch.
  • Garnish with fried shallots, and fresh basil.