Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Rapture Ready Raspberry & Chipotle

3 Things I love most in life?  My Family, Traveling and Food!  Especially when all 3 are combined!  I live in Lakeland, FL where there are currently 2 itty-bitty health food stores and zero vegetarian restaurants to speak of.  Since I do consume small amount of certain fish at times, it isn't as hard for me as a vegan, but since I do not eat dairy products at all, its still hard to eat anywhere.  And just because I eat healthier food that most people and just because I dont eat meat or dairy or anything deep fried does NOT mean that I fancy nibbling on carrot sticks or want a salad drizzled with freaking oil and vinegar!  Sooo...every chance that I get to eat at a different veg restaurant, I jump at it! 
Saint Augustine, FLMay 2011.  I had such a great time on this trip!  We went for 3 nights this past weekend.  Although we were there for a friend's wedding, it felt like our first real family trip, where we didn't stay with friends and got to do the tourist-y things I did as a kid on family vacations.  After our drive there we had time to settle into the hotel and go to a quick late dinner at a close restaurant my husband (not a veg) chose.  It was called the Sea Faire and although it had the local flair thing going on and the waitress was very nice, it was dirty and my options were severely limited.  I ordered shrimp cocktail since it was the only dairy-free thing on the menu with a side salad of you guessed it - oil and freaking vinegar.  I ate a few shrimp to satisfy my immediate hunger and pestered my husband to drive me around afterwards to find somewhere that was open so I could grab some healthier snacks.  The next morning after calling several places listed on HappyCow.org's site only to find that they didn't open until late or didn't have vegan options for breakfast (the hardest meal of the day for someone who wont touch dairy or bacon), we landed ourselves at the Manatee Cafe.  The atmosphere was cool.  Nothing fancy or exciting, but local and quaint.  The waiter was nice but my husband had the same complaint that he does at MOST veg restaurants - it took forever for our food.  Our order was taken in a timely manner but the wait for our food was long.  I had the Vegan Waffles with bananas and nuts and Addison (my daughter) had the vegan French Toast with a side of fruit consisting of kiwi, blueberries, strawberries, bananas.  We both devoured our meals! Diane's Natural Foods, which is a small local health food store similar to the couple we have here in Lakeland.  It was a few aisles of food and supplements with a small juice & sandwich bar.  My husband and Addison both ordered the Peanut Butter Cup smoothie and I ordered The Hulk, which is a fresh raw juice and Tofu Salad Sandwich, complete with sprouts on some of the most delicious whole grain bread I've ever had.   Now, I'm a fan of tofu salad sandwiches, but this one seriously was the best I had ever had.  I don't know what it was about it, but it was soooo good!  I even went there the next day as well for some more veggie juice and to buy the bread!  Aside from the awesome sandwich and juice, every person that was there was incredibly nice and helpful.  That night was the wedding, which I was prepared for with snacks in my purse until they served their full-meat dinner and when I politely let the waitress know she could return my plate to the kitchen, she returned with a vegan platter of sauted asparagus and roasted potatoes for me!  She made sure to assure me it was all sauted in olive oil.  Hooray for awesome caterers! 

The following morning, after reading the awesome reviews online, I visited
Casa Maya, a small local authentic Mexican joint in the historical downtown , down a cobblestone alley.  The menu does not look veg at all.  They serve plenty of meat and dairy but will happily substitute tempeh for meat and can make almost anything vegan. While Ryan chowed down on some Fondida and Huevos Rancheros,  I dug in to some Tempeh Tacos (YUM!) and Addison downed a strawberry banana smoothie made with soymilk and the highly recommended Sweet Potato Pancakes, which are dairy free but do have eggs.  I sampled a bite of them and let me say - they were SOOOO GOOD!  When I heard Sweet Potato Pancakes, I though for sure it was a sweet potato version of potato-latkes.  They were actually like regular fluffy pancakes and Soooo good!  It took a little long for someone to take our order, but in their defense, despite the fact that the place is very small, it was packed.  I guess word got out that it was delicious!  And, once we ordered, our food was at our table in no time.  The Present Moment Cafe, a raw, mostly vegan cafe not far from downtown.  The atmosphere and decor were cool, the staff was super friendly and the menu....well, the menu looked so good I ordered 2 meals for myself, 1 for there and 1 to go.  Ryan had the miso soup which he liked, but said it was cold.  He's not used to raw food yet.  I had the burrito which was pretty damn amazing.  It was made with a jalepeno vinegarette, which was to die for.  Addison had a strawberry milk, which she was not a fan of, but was alright.  Then we shared the Brownie Sundae, a rich raw cocoa brownie cut up over raw cashew ice cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce and vanilla cream...SOOOO good!  Later that night, I devoured the Raw Samosas, which I had taken back with me to the hotel.  I didn't know what to expect, since I've never had raw samosas before and had only had regular samosas a couple of times, but man were they delicious!  Present Moment Cafe exceeded all of my expectations and then some!  If you happen to be in the area, definitely add this place to your stops!
Cornmeal Crusted Tofu w/ Raspberry Chipotle Coulis1 Block Super-Firm Tofu
1/3 C Fine-Medium Cornmeal
1 Tbsp Organic Unrefined Sugar
dash S&P
1 tsp Smoked Paprika
1/2  Medium Shallot
1 Chipotle Pepper in Adobo Sauce
1 C Fresh or Frozen and defrosted Raspberries
1/4 C Agave Nectar
1/2 tsp White Balsamic Vinegar
1/4 C Dijon Mustard
2 Tbsp high-heat cooking oil (I used coconut oil)

I found super-firm tofu recently and it is amazing.  Its way firmer than extra-firm.  If you cannot find Super-Firm (Wildwood made this one) then use Extra Firm but you may want to freeze it first, defrost and then wrap in a clean dishtowel and place an iron skillet on top to press out excess moisture and make as firm as possible. 

Cut tofu block into 4 or 5 slices, then slice in half on the diagonal.  You can really cut them however you want...but more cuts may require some more cornmeal.  Set aside.  Mix cornmeal, sugar, s&p and smoked paprika in a pie plate or shallow dish.  Set aside. 

In a blender, blend shallot, chipotle, raspberries, agave and vinegar until well combined.  If your blender does not obliterate the seeds, strain through a fine mesh strainer.  I used it raw to retain as much nutritional value from antioxidant rich raspberries, but you can simmer if you wish while you prepare the rest. 

Heat oil in skillet over medium heat and coat each slice of tofu on all sides with mustard, then dredge through the cornmeal mixture, using your hands to make sure they are well covered.  Place in heated oil for a few minutes on each side until they turn golden brown.  Serve up these sweet-n-smoky babies for an impressive appetizer!

 For lunch we walked the very short distance from our hotel to

After some more sightseeing, I dragged my husband to the one place I had been wanting to check out since we got there:

 After our meal there we spent time walking around historic downtown shops and visiting the wax museum at the request of my daughter.  This was the day predicted by some nut cases to be the day of Rapture...I think they are all loony, but we did have a short line of bad luck that evening.  After the wax museum we wanted to go to a leather (I know, I know Vegans....chill out....we can't all be perfect) shop so that my husband could learn a few things about leather working with some recycled leather he wanted to repurpose.  Closed about 20 minutes before we got there.  So, as our last stop, we had promised our daughter a horse and buggy ride around downtown that we had all been looking forward to for 2 nights already.  When we got there, they were booked and couldn't get us a ride.  This sucked for 2 reasons: No1: We had promised Addison and she was a little hurt.  No2: We had parked on the other side of downtown and were exhausted from walking and were hoping for a ride back to the car.  It was a bust.  So off we went on our long trek back to the car when what should my wondering eyes should appear?  But a sign hanging in front me that read European Cakes Vegan & Gluten Free Available.  OMG!  So, Addison and I ran to cover up our disappointment from the horses in cake and vegan buttercream frosting only to find a sign on the door that said 'Be Back Soon'.  Soon obviously wasn't soon enough and since no time was given and we had no idea how long that miserable little taunting sign was there, we continued our walk to the car covered in disappointment and defeat.  Nonetheless, we had a fantastic trip and the food was great...even though I will continue to dream about what deliciousness beckoned to us behind those bakery doors. 

Inspired by the Pepper Palace, a local Saint Augustine shop housing hundreds, if not thousands of bottles of hot sauce...I created the following recipe.  I am a HUGE fan of chipotle peppers and combining their smokiness with sweeter flavors is a favorite of mine.


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