Blog News, Travel, We Are Adventuring: World Food

Smokin’ Tofu: 2013 Retrospective & an Announcement of Sorts.

Here it is, chaps: the ol’ obligatory end of year round up. I’ll try not to yawn on too much but feel free to skip to the end.

// Trips // I went on three trips to four cities abroad this year:

P1020785My boyfriend and I went to Amsterdam in the spring, where we hung out in coffee shops with cats and drank beers by the canals. 

P1020309In April, I quelled a hangover with vegan currywurst in a very snowy Berlin with my big brother.

38a971aa231811e3bba622000a1fbc9c_7I popped my New Orleans veggie cherry, listened to jazz in the streets and drank in a toilet-themed bar called The John with my pal Nisha in the autumn.

P1030512And finally, I brunched the fuck out of Oakland with My Byfriend’s Kitchen author Brett. 

// Travel in 2014 // I’ve already got TWO flippin’ trips booked for this year: my darling Nisha is marrying her boo in April, so Brendan and I are heading back to New Orleans to join the raucous celebrations and I cannot WAIT to share this amazing city with someone I love so much (okay, real talk: I can’t wait to eat at Ba Chi Canteen again). For Christmas, my mother is taking my brother and I to Iceland for a long weekend in Reykjavik (I’m a lucky son of a gun). My brother and I have been scheming a trip to Budapest this year, and I’ve promised a pal in Montreal and another in New York that I’ll visit soon. I’ve also got a friend in Malmö and another living near Vienna that I’d like to visit, but I’m just a humble bookseller and not all of these dreams will be able to come into fruition. Wahh.

// Blog // In 2013, I was honoured to be nominated for Blogger of the Year at the annual VegFest UK Awards. Smokin’ Tofu came in fifth place – a massive achievement for this young cider-soaked blog. It marks the end of an important chapter for Smokin’ Tofu: regular readers may have noticed that Smokin’ Tofu is no longer an exclusively vegan blog. There are going to be some further changes around these parts, namely that I will no longer be posting recipes. I just can’t be arsed, folks. It’s a flooded market and I don’t particularly enjoy the pressure of sharing my kitchen creations. Instead, the emphasis of Smokin’ Tofu is shifting to more illustrated restaurant reviews, an abundance of food porn pics and an increase in cookbook reviews. I intend to up my travel blogging game, with more posts about things to do in the places I visit, aside from stuffing my drunken gob with vegetarian grub.

Thanks for sticking around in 2013 and I hope 2014 will be a blinder.

Here’s to us. CHEERS! *knocks cider can against ice cold radiator in a pathetic display of online camaraderie*

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Alice xx

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Travel, We Are Adventuring: World Food

World Food: Satsuma, New Orleans.

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A wind of change is blowing through the New Orleans foodie scene. Two years ago, my brother and I struggled to find vegetarian restaurants in New Orleans. This was primarily because we found it difficult to navigate happycow.com after ber o’clock, which tended to strike at about midday. This time around, armed with a car and a gal with a backhand knowledge of vegetarian restaurants in New Orleans , I found loads of brilliant eateries and drinkeries that served veggie and vegan cuisine alongside their meat dishes.

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We had lunch in Satsuma before heading to the Country Club for a dip in the pool as the late afternoon sun began to set. Satsuma has an arty atmosphere (think antique books and thriftstore oddities, people tapping away on laptops and hipsters in hats drinking lattes). Diners order from the blackboard menu above the counter. Unfortunately, it’s not the best system and I recommend groups avoid splitting their order. Nisha and I paid together, but our mate Brandy ordered first, and she had almost finished her sandwich by the time ours arrived.

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Pineapple limeade and beet lemonade.

As the name suggests, Satsuma is the kind of joint that specialises in vitamin C: lavish salads, thickass sandwiches and juicy drinks brimming with the good shit.  Vegans can get their foodie fix with scrambled tofu, black bean burgers and a range of raw salads, plus your carnivorous travel pals can tuck into a BLT or smoked salmon bagel.

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P1030848Mediterranean quinoa salad.

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… and here’s the money shot. This is a fancy pants grilled cheese sandwich: roasted pear slices smothered in melted brie, with a sweet walnut spread, caramelised onion and a balsamic glaze.  The filling looks a little washed out in the picture, but to be honest, those ingredients were never going to create a colourful sandwich. It tasted like a gooey sweet dream slapped between fried wheat bread, so who’s complaining?

Satsuma | website | HappyCow (pending) | Facebook

We Are Adventuring: World Food

World Food: Grilled Cheese Sandwiches at Clover Grill, New Orleans.

2d8161da1d8b11e3abce22000a1f96d4_7From jazz to jambalaya, diner food is pretty low on the list of things New Orleans is famous for, but the ubiquitous diner is a gastronomical staple across America, and the Big Easy is no exception. Diners are America’s answer to greasy spoons, and yet for reasons unknown you don’t see many ’50s themed East End caffs in the States (million dollar idea right there – CALLING IT).

Anyway, sometimes (usually a few hours after beer o’clock) your body just craves a thickass grilled cheese and a heap of hot salted fries and if you happen to be quenching your thirst on Bourbon, Clover Grill is the place to go.

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The candy pink menu is basic and honest (“We love to fry and it shows!”), proffering standard southern diner fare: omelets, grits, biscuits and gravy, grilled cheeses, milkshakes and malts, waffles, coffee. Real talk: that’s all you need at 3am. Save the quinoa salads and kale smoothies for brunch, hippy.

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Nisha chowing down on a blue cheese omelette and grits. I’m not a grits kinda gal but, for the curious, grits are a creamy side dish similar to polenta. On a plate, they do a good job masquerading as mashed potato but… grittier. They can be served sweet or savoury but not on my plate.

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Clover Grill is nestled between the gay bars of Bourbon Street, and is a gay-friendly establishment that opens its doors to all. Open 24hrs a day, I challenge anyone to spend any length of time in New Orleans without sneaking in a cheeky drunken grilled cheese.

Clover Grill | website

Travel, We Are Adventuring: World Food

World Food: Bouchon, California.

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This was the best day of my whole life. We went for a hike, we had brunch, we went to three vineyards to taste a billion different wines and then we ate a fuckload of cakes and pastries at Bouchon. Then we snuggled cats in front of American Horror Story. Jealous? Me too. Present me is jealous of past me because that chick knows how to have a good time.

So let’s talk about Bouchon. The first Bouchon Bakery opened next door to the Bouchon Bistro in Yountville, Napa County California. Since then, the bakeries seem to have overtaken the restaurants in terms of notoriety – I thought I’d never heard of Bouchon until I saw the front cover of the book on display within the bakery, which is stocked throughout bookshops in the UK. So anyway, enough history. Let’s talk cake. When I say “talk” I obviously mean stare at lots of cake pictures in a lustful silence.

P1030573This is a photo of Brett making love to Natalie’s muffin.

P1030571This is a massive awesome fig thing covered in a mountain of unconquerable sweet cream cheese. #foodblogging

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P1030576Soft, sweet, chewy macarons made with fresh, seasonal fruit. Here we have raspberry and fig. I know macarons are a clichéd hipster Instagram cake, but honestly, the fig macaron (Mr Purple on the right) from Bouchon changed all of our lives for the better.

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P1030579A fig tart that will break your heart.

P1030583A fig tart with a blonde that’ll break your heart.

P1030585Your humble author figging herself off (Smokin Tofu earrings are from Black Heart Creatives, represent).

P1030586This is about half of our haul. Not kidding. We’d been supping wine and talkin’ smack about grapes all afternoon and we just went balls to the wall in Bouchon. No regrets. So, if you find yourself in Napa or Sonoma Valley, take a detour to Bouchon Bakery for perfection in every bite. Don’t think about it, just knock back the dregs of that $200-a-bottle Cabernet Sauvignon taster that you’re never going to purchase and haul ass to Bouchon. Check the website for other locations – there’s certainly branches  in Vegas, New York and Beverly Hills too. My only question is: can we please have a branch in London? Because I don’t crap plane tickets to California.

Travel, We Are Adventuring: World Food

World Food: Chez Panisse, Berkeley, California.

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In the heart of Berkeley, California, there resides a quaint little restaurant called Chez Panisse. You may have heard of it.

Founded in 1971 by food guru Alice Waters, Chez Panisse is world renowned for its French-meets-Cali cuisine, exquisitely prepared from locally sourced produce of the highest quality. My pal Brett of My Boyfriend’s Kitchen is currently interning with the pastry section, so I decided to pay him a visit during a busy lunch service whilst I was in town.

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Well, one thing lead to another and before you could say “fuck it, I’ll have a glass of prosecco” Brett’s boyfriend Brendon and I were glass-in-hand and YOLOing our way through a three course late lunch at Chez.

The café, located above the iconic restaurant, was teaming with a cross section of Californian residents, but we were lucky enough to be seated by an open window overlooking the Bay. Happiness is a cold glass of prosecco, a view of the sunkissed San Francisco Bay and the company of a charming gentleman with plenty to say.

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We started our meal with a little gem lettuce salad, served with marinated beetroot and sliced boiled egg, coated in a light mustard dressing. I’m not sure I can truly do the flavour justice: if you’ve ever grown your own lettuce, you’ll know how beautiful, simple and subtle the flavour of fresh lettuce is already. The thing with Chez Panisse is that every single ingredient on the plate tastes like it’s just been picked. The emphasis is always on locally grown, organic and – I realised over lunch – orgasmic. Chez Panisse take the flavour of lettuce and turn it up to eleven.

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The bright sunlight streaming in through our window made the atmosphere that extra bit delightful, but it ruined the photos. Handy hint: if you hate sunshine, California will not suit your exotic tastes. Anyway, these pictures aren’t great, and I’ve decided to omit the less appetising pictures from this post. Despite that, even dodgy photos from Chez are still high class food porn and who am I to deny my readers? Brendon ordered the house-made pappardelle (that’s frilly pasta to you and I) with chanterelle mushrooms, thyme and finely grated pecorino.

My main course was a personal challenge: I hate aubergine in European cuisine (apart from aubergine dip. I can eat that shit with my bare hands). Moussaka? Get the fuck out of my kitchen. Aubergine Parmigiana? Get the fuck out my face. However, slap on a splash of soy sauce and a bit of ginger  – then me and aubergine see eye to eye. So, as I perused the menu, I thought – if I’m ever going to get into European aubergine, Chez Panisse will be the best introduction I could ever hope for. So, I ordered an aubergine dish, baked in a wood oven, topped with Parmesan and served with a fennel and rocket side salad. Reader, I married it.

P1030640For dessert, the kitchen sent us a complimentary fruit bowl* of sliced Dashing Ranch Bartlett pear and a small bunch of blushing Bronx grapes. Fruit does not get sweeter, juicier or fresher than that. If we all had access to such beautiful, high quality produce, Cadbury would go out of business over night. Truesay.

*What’s the golden rule? Always eat where your buddies work.

This meal was more than just a casual bite with a pal, though. Firstly, to visit such an iconic restaurant, to sit at such a wonderful table, to enjoy such delicious dishes of lovingly prepared food, was an experience I’ll never forget. It was a pleasure to share such a delightful lunch with a new friend that makes me laugh as much as Brendon.

We ate our lunch on Monday, September 9th 2013, which marked five years since my father passed away. My dad had a particular penchant for French cuisine. I grew up with Julia Child’s The Art of French Cuisine on the bookshelf in our kitchen, slipped between Elizabeth David and Rick Stein. My dad would have loved that meal, that wine, that sunshine. I can say with authority that he would have ordered the Northern halibut with green beans, green olives, capers and a squeeze of Meyer lemon, and I can trust that it would have been cooked perfectly and “unfucked about with”, as he would say. My dad liked his food ‘unfucked about with’, and that’s a gourmet tradition that Chez Panisse holds close to its heart: wonderful ingredients don’t require smoke and mirrors to make them sing. A sharp knife and a chef with a clever palette is all you really need. Here’s to you, Dad. xx

Travel, We Are Adventuring: World Food

World Food: Bennachin, New Orleans.

lifeintheoldgirl

This is a visual representation of me dancing with my old dead blog, much like Lestat dancing with the plague-ridden corpse of Claudia’s mother. There’s life in the old girl yet! etc. If you’re wondering why this is an appropriate analogy and accompanying image for a food blog, you would be right to ask: naturally, we are going to delve into my neglected stash of New Orleans tofu porn and get our vicarious travel on.

P1030944Before my trip, my pal Nisha sent me the menu for a veggie-friendly place called Green Goddess. On one of my last days, our senses were dulled with NOLA-style hangovers (clue: they hit hard, they hit fast, they hit you right in the nuts of your soul). We needed sustenance of the virtuous kind, so we headed to Green Goddess in the French Quarter and were devastated to discover it was closed. I fucking ask you.

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So it was heavy hearts and throbbing heads that we headed across the Quarter to Bennachin, an African eaterie on Royal. Don’t be fooled by those empty seats: I snapped this picture before a larger party took the middle table. The warm saffron walls, chilled African music and large glass of unsweetened iced tea did the trick and by the end of our meal, we were ready to get our drink on.

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The menu features dishes from Cameroon and Gambia, and as you can see, is gloriously vegetable-heavy. I ordered Kone ni Makondo – a fragrantly spiced tomato stew thick with black-eyed peas, served with a pile of coconut rice, fried plantain and a bread roll.

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The portions were absolutely enormous – I couldn’t eat even half of my plate, but we packed our leftovers into take out boxes and enjoyed them later on, when we were hungry after an evening of drinking. Yes, we were hungover but need I remind you, we were still in New Orleans. Although a little spicy for this tender-tongued Brit, the stew was simple but richly flavoured.

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The plantain rocked my world, though. Fried crisp, naturally sweet with a hint of caramel on the darkest edges, I could have eaten a whole plate of that. Perhaps next time, I will.

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There are a number of vegan options on the menu, and rumour has it Bennachin is a BYOB restaurant, although we were happy to nurse our hangovers with glasses of iced tea and cold water.

I dismayed to see a few negative reviews on Happy Cow – I’ll be totally honest, I would have been happier with a smaller portion for a slightly more reasonable price, but the service was great, the food was delicious and none of it went to waste.

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Bennachin | Facebook | HappyCow

Travel, We Are Adventuring: World Food

World Food: Ba Chi Canteen, New Orleans.

Do you know what the happiest four letter acronym is?

NOLA? Close, but no cigar. DOMO? It’s the happiest place in the world, but no. The happiest four letter acronym is actually BYOB, but only when it appears on restaurant menus. That’s not the best thing about Ba Chi Canteen, New Orleans, but it certainly helps.

I came across a couple of Vietnamese-NOLA fusion joints around town (well okay, I came across two), but Ba Chi Canteen was the restaurant that Nisha and I would find ourselves daydreaming about for the rest of my trip. Most of the aforementioned daydreaming occurred over old episodes of Kitchen Nightmares and the same bag of watermelon Twizzlers that I spent the full week chewing through. Like this:

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In fact, we actually talked about Ba Chi Canteen every single day following our meal there. Every. Single. Day. Think about that for a second: EVERY SINGLE FUCKING DAY. This isn’t an exaggeration. We talked about it in smoky candlelit bars at 3am. We talked about it as we drove for emergency 11pm Goldschläger. We talked about it as we bobbed in the spunk soup of a clothing-optional swimming pool. We even talked about it whilst we – gasp – cheated on it with banh mi style po boys from another tofu slingin’ joint. When was the last time you ate a meal that was so great, you felt betrothed to it afterwards? I honestly think the kind folks at Ba Chi Canteen performed some kind of love spell on those bacos because they crept right under my skin and burrowed themselves into my heart.

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You’ll find Ba Chi Canteen on Maple. We drove there, but if you’re passing through New Orleans and travelling on a budget, you’re almost certainly staying at either India House or Bourbon House (both of which I’ve stayed in, both of which are rad). There are buses that go to lovely leafy Maple Street from those hostels. There’s other shit to do when you get there too, like bars. (I mean, we didn’t go to any bars on Maple but it’s New Orleans: I can say with authority that there are always bars). So, listen, do me a solid and just go to Ba Chi Canteen. You can thank me by taking a photo of your orgasmic face as you bite into a baco. I’m totally serious. I want to start a gallery of sordid Baco Babes pics so I can eat bacos vicariously through you all.

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Enough chat, let’s get on with the tofu porn, yeah? (Interesting fact: the phrase “tofu porn” gets me a lot of hits. I mean, *slides weirdly close to you* a lot of hits. The hits from the phrase “tofu porn” buy me the finest threads from ASOS Curve and keep me in A-grade Polish lager from the corner shop. We’re talkin’ Żywiec on ice, baby).

These photos are seriously dodgy. Did I mention it was BYOB? Yeah well, I drank half a bottle of white wine over dinner and I don’t care who knows it. Also, we were sat under the red neon signage – it was a great table for five of us but it tinted the food. Let’s be honest though: it’s impossible to capture such beauty on film.

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Spicy lemongrass tofu.

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Tofu fresh spring rolls.

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This little minx is a baco, which Ba Chi Canteen describes as their answer to the humble ]taco. Everyone pronounced it “bark-o” but then Americans say “pahr-star” and “bay-zull” so who knows where we Brits stand on that issue. Personally, my semi-Brummy tongue would pronounce it like “tobacco”. Anyway, in a dance off, the baco could dance rings around the taco and still have the energy to make sweet love to my mouth all night long. At $2.95 a piece, I added one to my order for the hell of it. Next time? I will order them all because, like Pokémon, I must CATCH THEM ALL WITH MY MOUTHNET. This saucy baco is the honey ponzu tofu variety slathered in garlic aioli and spiked with pickled ginger. The bread is soft, floury and slightly sweet, and the blend of textures was a funsplosion with every bite. Unfortunately chaps, I should note that the bread isn’t vegan.

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Out of everything I wanted to eat in New Orleans (and believe me, the list was long), a vegetarian po boy was number one on my list. A po boy is the classic sandwich of the city, usually crammed with seafood like battered prawns or crawfish. This plucky vegetarian set her sights on a vegetarian po boy, and Ba Chi Canteen delivered with a Vietnamese twist. This hot sandwich was packed with sweet chilli tofu, fresh coriander, pickled carrot, grated cucumber and jalapeño slices. I’d be lying to you, dear readers, if I said this was the best vegetarian po boy I had in New Orleans (I’ll save the big reveal for another post), but it was damn fucking good. Again, unfortunately, the bread isn’t suitable for vegans, but I have been reliably informed that the steaming bowls of pho are vegan-friendly and the staff are always happy to answer probing questions about both the menu and their personal lives.

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I still think about that baco every single day, but I draw comfort from the fact that I consumed it and therefore probably absorbed its sensual power.