Posts Tagged Jamaican

Good Times in Gainesville

Back in June, I traveled to Gainesville to attend a wedding and hang with some old friends.  The groom was my old band mate, and rather than a rehearsal dinner, he wanted to get the band back together.  Between family, friends, wedding guests and old fans who were still in town, we were expecting a sold out show!  We hadn’t played together in years and needed a few practices before we were ready to play, so I arrived a few days early and ended up spending four nights in town.  I hit some of my favorite food spots, and tried some new ones too.

I got into town on Wednesday night and met a few friends at Reggae Shack Cafe.

I like a lot of their vegetarian dishes, and this time I went with the Vegan Steak – handmade seitan simmered in a sweet Carribean sauce with vegetables.  The dish came with cabbage, rice and beans, and fried plantains.  I love this sauce; it’s sweet, savory and spicy.

Festivals, which are like sweet fried hush puppies.  Not very good for you, but they’re so tasty that I order them every time.

I didn’t even know Red Stripe Light existed!

On my way to visit my parents the next morning, I stopped at my absolute favorite coffee shop in Gainesville, Coffee Culture.

Vanilla soy latte.  None of the baked goods were vegan, but the guy at the counter said that they were planning to open their own bakery soon, and would have vegan options in the future.

Needing some solid fuel, I stopped by Bagels & Noodles on University Avenue.  This place used to be called Bagels Unlimited, but it seems they’ve made the odd move of also serving noodles for lunch and dinner.  Regardless, this whole wheat bagel with hummus and lettuce was exactly what I wanted.  The bagel was toasted and chewy, the hummus was garlicky and warm, and the lettuce added the perfect crunch.

Still fairly full from the bagel, I met my parents for lunch in Ocala.  Our go-to restaurant in Ocala is Amrit Palace, but my mom had heard of another Indian restaurant getting good reviews, so we gave that a try instead.

Bay Leaf Indian Restaurant has a buffet for lunch and a full menu for dinner.  After confirming that some of the buffet items were vegan, we sat down and helped ourselves.  I got veggie pakoras, mint chutney, rice, dal, potatoes and peas and tamarind chutney.  The dishes were well spiced and slightly spicy, and very delicious.

Coming back to Gainesville, I was in a rush to grab some food before our scheduled practice, so I grabbed take out from my very favorite falafel place, Gyro Plus.

Bad lighting, delicious pita – falafel, lettuce, tomato, pickles and tahini sauce, with a big side of fries.

I knew it was going to  be a long night of practice, so I also picked up a spinach pie which I ate in the car during a break.

I needed to fuel up the next morning before heading to another practice, so I grabbed a friend and headed to 43rd Street Deli.  They used to have a location on 13th street which was great because they always had vegan items on the menu.  That location closed a few years ago, and I was hoping there would be something I could eat at the original location.

They had vegan pancakes on the menu but were sadly out of them, so I ordered the tempeh scramble with rye toast.  The scramble was more oily and salty than I would have made at home, but it was a nice, hot plate of protein and veggies, and it helped get me ready for more practice.

We practiced during the afternoon, and I don’t know if everyone knows this, but June afternoons in Central Florida are HOT.  It was possibly the hottest I’ve ever been.  I went back to my friend Janeen’s house where I was staying and was getting ready for the show that night, when Janeen came home with this:

Raspberry sorbet!  She must’ve been reading my mind, and got the sorbet for me when she stopped for frozen yogurt.  It was the perfect cold treat to keep me going.

To get a little more family time in, I met my parents, brother and sister-in-law for dinner at The Top.  I have a few favorites at The Top but selected a special that sounded really good – Tempeh Chimichurri with steamed broccoli and roasted fingerling potatoes.  The chimichurri was much more thick than those I’ve had in the past, but was herbey and citrusey and very delicious.

The show went really well, considering we hadn’t played together in years.  I was made to wear a cowboy hat because we covered a Mley Cyrus song.  Don’t ask.  Don’t ask about the other costumes either…

The next morning I met a few friends for brunch at The Jones.  I went to The Jones once or twice when I lived in Gainesville and was never that impressed, but over the past few years I’ve heard nothing but positive reviews so I figured it was worth another try.

The breakfast menu says that almost any dish can be made vegan, and I chose the Blackhawk Burrito – soy merguez, onions, bell peppers and jalapenos in a flour tortilla with organic black beans, topped with salsa fresca and avocado.  Served with homefries, organic black beans and brown rice.  This was a hugely filling and delicious breakfast.

I wasn’t sure what kind of food would be available at the wedding and was getting peckish by mid-afternoon, so I met Janeen for one last ladydate at Karma Kreme.  Karma Kreme opened soon after I moved away, which is probably a good thing.  Having freshly made vegan ice cream available that close to home could’ve been bad for my health!

An entire half of the ice cream case is dedicated to vegan ice creams, and they boast a variety of soy, rice and coconut-based ice creams.

Before I got to the sugary stuff, I needed some real food.  Not all of their sandwiches are available daily, and I felt very lucky that they had the Tofurkey Reuben that day.  Tofurkey slices on rye with sauerkraut, Russian dressing and vegan cheese, pressed and served hot.  This sandwich was gooey and fatty and wonderful.

You can’t really see how amazing this sundae is, what with the chocolate ice cream, coffee ice cream, cookie pieces, caramel and housemade coconut whipped cream.  It was so good!  If I still lived in town, I think I would be giving Karma Kreme plenty of business.

The wedding was great.  It was actually at the same venue Janeen’s wedding was at last year, and it was really interesting to see what two different couples did with the same space.  It was wonderful to see so many old friends, and the wedding was complete with 40’s brought in from Georgia and a nacho cheese fountain.  As my British friends said, “brilliant”!

Me on the right, with two very pretty lady friends.

reception aftermath

Sadly, I had to head home the next day.  I picked up another hummus bagel on the way to the airport and called it a trip.  I always said that it was very easy to be vegan in Gainesville, and it’s even more so now with restaurants like Karma Kreme and Boca Fiesta around, and mainstays like The Top, Reggae Shack, Gyro Plus and Satchel’s still in business.

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Four Dinners

So after the brunch and eating brunch leftovers for a day or two, I still had leftovers to deal with, including at least a pound of asparagus, some roasted and some raw.  As much as I love asparagus, I was quickly getting tired of it.  I didn’t have much money to grocery shop until the next payday, so I made some kitchen transformations.

I’d been wanting to make calzones for a while, but I never have the time to do a full-on yeast-risen crust.  I’ve tried a couple “quick” crusts before and never had much success, but I thought one more try might do the trick.  So I let the dough rise for just a short time and hoped for the best.  They turned out pretty well!  By no means was it the best calzone or crust I’ve ever had, but for having dinner ready within an hour including my slow kitchen pace, I was very pleased.  The dough even poofed up a bit in the oven, check out the outside crust!

The fillings were chopped spicy italian seitan sausage, roasted asparagus, red onion, red pepper, shredded carrot, nutritional yeast and marinara.  I normally like to have the marinara on the side and dip, but I didn’t have much left so inside it went.

Quick Calzones

Makes 2.

1 tsp active dry yeast
½ cup warm water
1 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbs olive oil
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup bread flour

In a medium bowl dissolve yeast in the warm water and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in the salt, olive oil and flour. Add more flour as needed to form a workable dough and knead a couple minutes. Place dough in an oiled bowl, turn to coat, cover and let stand for 15 minutes, during which the dough should rise a bit. Preheat oven to 400 F. Divide dough into 2 portions. Using a rolling pin and extra flour, roll each portion to about 1/8 inch. The dough should be double the desired calzone size. Layer fillings on half of each piece of dough, leaving a half inch around the edges to seal. Fold dough over onto toppings and crimp edges. Bake on a parchment lined baking sheet for 15 minutes.

Note: Any combination of all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour or bread flour will work.

After using up most of the leftovers in the calzones, I still had some red potatoes and a bunch or raw asparagus to deal with.  I knew I wanted to mash the potatoes.  And I knew I didn’t want any more asparagus in asparagus form, so I decided to turn it into soup.  I made a really good creamy asparagus soup a while back, but it used potatoes as the creamy part, and I can’t do two potatoes in one meal.  I poked around online and found some nice looking recipes that used a “milk” broth thickened with flour, but I didn’t have the patience for that.  Then the sausage gravy from VWAV popped in my head, and I decided that white beans and asparagus would probably blend nicely together.  And they did.

This soup is pretty mild, spice-wise, which was what I was going for.  And it tastes good enough that you probably won’t mind that it resembles a bodily secretion.

Cream of Asparagus and White Bean Soup

Serves 2-3.

½ large yellow onion, sliced
½ tsp minced garlic
2 cups water
2 Tbs chicken-style broth powder
¾ – 1 lb asparagus, thick ends removed
1 15.5 oz can white beans, drained
1 tsp dried thyme
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

Place onion, garlic, water and broth powder in a large pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 7 minutes. Add asparagus and simmer 7 more minutes. Place remaining ingredients in a blender or food processor. Carefully add asparagus mixture and blend till smooth. Pour soup back into the pot and heat a couple minutes, until warmed through.

That got me through the end of the week, until payday.  Then I ate like a piggy all weekend and ate out Monday night, so Tuesday I was craving something super healthy.  Bean salad was sounding really good to me, but the one I normally make is pretty plain, and I wanted to pack as much good stuff in as I could.  So I came up with Mediterranean Four Bean Salad.

Served with baby spinach and wheat pita.

Mediterranean Four Bean Salad

1/2 16 oz bag frozen petite lima beans, thawed
14.5 oz can green beans, drained
14.5 oz can petite diced tomatoes, drained
15.5 oz can garbanzo beans, drained
15.5 oz can kidney beans, drained
6 oz jar marinated artichoke hearts, chopped
1 roasted red pepper, chopped
1/2 medium red onion, finely diced
Juice of a large lemon (about 1/4 c)
2 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
heaping Tbs dried parsley
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp basil

In a large bowl, combine first eight ingredients (lima beans through red onion). In a separate bowl whisk together remaining ingredients (lemon juice through basil). Pour dressing over bean mixture and stir to combine.

Serves 6-8.

I’ve had my eye on the jerk recipe from VWAV for quite some time, but for some reason I always thought it would be complicated.  It’s not.  At all.  It’s about as easy as they come, if you have a blender.  I’ve been on a tempeh kick, so it became jerk tempeh.

Our local Jamaican joint makes really good vegan food, and it’s always super spicy and pretty oily.  And a tad pricy for me.  They serve entrees with rice and peas, cabbage and carrots so I decided to try to healthify that.  Again with the help of the internets (and having nothing to do at work) I learned how to make rice and peas, and adapted it for brown rice. 

I also steamed some collard greens, which I have decided I like WAY more plain and steamed than kale.  Oh, and next time I make the jerk I’ll double the sauce, because really, that’s the best part and there should be enough sauce to drown everything else on the plate.

Jamaican Brown Rice & Peas

Yeilds 6 cups.

2 c medium grain brown rice
14 oz can coconut milk (1 1/2 c)
2 1/2 c water
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
few dashes freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp dried thyme
1 Tbs chicken-style broth powder
15.5 oz can pigeon peas, drained (sub kidney beans if you can’t find them)
1 whole green onion (3 or 4 green parts), finely chopped, some green pieces
reserved for garnish
habanero/scotch bonnet pepper

In a large pot, mix together the first eight ingredients (rice through broth powder). Cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the pigeon peas and green onions, stir, then place the hot pepper whole on top of the mixture. (The pepper will not make the rice spicy, it only provides flavor.) Simmer 30-35 more minutes, or until liquid has been mostly absorbed. Remove from heat, let stand 5 minutes. Remove the hot pepper, fluff and serve.

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