Year in Review: 2011

Last year, I was inspired to write a “Foodie Forecast” of the food trends in El Paso. This year I’m going to change it up a bit by providing an overview of El Paso’s restaurant scene, as well as personal highlights of 2011.

In 2011, El Paso saw more movement than usual in the restaurant scene, or at least that’s how it seemed. Let me know if I’ve left anything out, and tell me about your favorite food memories of 2011, whether they be in a restaurant or in your kitchen, vegetarian or not.

The EP food trend of 2011 was…sweets! Yogurt shops popped up all over El Paso, and cupcake/dessert bakeries infiltrated my Groupon/Living Social deals inbox. Sweet Corner opened up downtown and received a bit of publicity from local media.

Clockwise from left: Tabla, Roasted Cauliflower @ Tabla, Veggie Burger @ Tom's, Vergi-e Pizza @ The Pizza Joint, Veggie Nachos @ The Pitch, Salsas @ Bikini Joe's

So much happened in 2011. This is in no particular order.

  • Commonwealth closed down, making way for newcomer Tabla. The owners of Ripe brought Spanish tapas to the Union Plaza district downtown. I attended their grand opening and got to try a couple of dishes for free. There aren’t too many options for vegetarians, but the dishes that are veg friendly are tasty and the vegetables are perfectly cooked. Unfortunately, the white bean dip contains bacon. Chef and staff are very friendly and accommodating, so they might be able to make dietary modifications.
  • The Ripe family was busy in 2011 when The Drifter food truck decided to stop drifting & set up permanent shop at Tom’s Restaurant on Boston St. in the Kern area. I tried the veggie burger (Boca patty) topped with Manchego & Romesco sauce. Loved the Romesco sauce!
  • John Geske, owner of Geske’s Firegrill & The Garden, took a risk investing in Bikini Joe’s at the former Casa Verde location near Bassett Place (Center). This place has a fun atmosphere and that’s about it. No veg options except for side dishes and a sad salad that was supposed to have greens, but only had iceberg lettuce. Pros: free self serve chips and salsas bar, Corona Ritas. Geske has hopes of turning this restaurant into a chain. Good luck?
  • 2900 closed down, but The Pitch opened a few doors down. This sports bar is veg friendly! The veggie nachos are amazing, but can be really salty  at times. Other veg options include portobello burgers, veggie tacos, veggie nachos, veggie quesadillas, & grilled cheese. I heard that these are the same owners of Coach’s Grill, which unfortunately closed down as well this past year.
  • The Pizza Joint also opened in the same shopping center as The Pitch. Order veggie pizza by the slice or as a whole pie in a fun, eclectic setting with beer on tap. Open until 3 am on Fridays & Saturdays! Kind of reminds me of Two Fisted Mario’s in Denver, but not nearly as delicious & cheap (sorry). Vegan sauce is available upon request (?).
  • The original Jaxon’s at Mesa closed down, and Montana Steakhouse quickly took its place. The steakhouse had 4 locations in Juarez for almost 30 years before coming to El Paso.
  • A couple of new chains came to El Paso in which none resonated well with me. Potbelly offered poor customer service and scanty servings. Baja Fresh also offered poor customer service and poor food quality. The manager couldn’t tell me whether or not their bean offerings were veg friendly. In better news, their rival (?) Chipotle will be opening up their first EP location in the 2900 shopping center (this place is a buzzing!)!!! Schlotzsky’s returned to the westside with a Cinnabon. I used to be a huge fan of this place, but I forgot how expensive it is!
  • Spec’s opened up in the Sunland Park area. This was probably the best news of the year. This Texas chain has a wide variety of beer, wine, liquor, cigars, & fine foods at mostly reasonable prices. Their deli serves an awesome veggie sandwich, as well as a veggie burger (haven’t tried it yet).
  • A new Mediteranean place opened up on the westside called Zino’s. Veg options include falafel, vegetarian platter, & pasta dishes. My mom loved this place, & I really liked their falafel & fries (they had garlic, spices, & cheese), but their hummus was a weird orange color.
  • Everyday Gyro opened on Cincinnati. Food was subaverage & a bit salty. I think I’d rather grab falafel at Sinbad, Zino’s, or Al-Zaituna. Their fries were really good (had fresh garlic) & the hummus was pretty good, with an earthy taste.
  • The eastside finally saw the return of an Indian restaurant in the area. Indian Curry Leaf opened up in the Sun Pointe Shopping Center on Lee Trevino. Everyone has raved about this place, but I wasn’t impressed when I tried their lunch buffet. Either way, I’d give them a second chance because I love Indian food & they’ve begun offering weekday lunch specials in lieu of their buffet.
  • The Drifter may have closed shop, but Create Gourmet Eats food truck began its operations in 2011. They offer the usual veg option of a portabella sandwich, but the bread & toppings make this sandwich pop. Create has hopes of making it onto the Eat St. show on the Cooking Channel, so be sure & vote for them before Jan. 31. I guess they’re all about mainstream media because they completely ignored my review of them (I sent a link) & chose to only promote certain reviews. Otherwise, they are super nice & friendly.
  • I found Jonathan of Belle Sucre at Ardovino’s Farmers Market, and was blown away by the bread (type of baguette?) that I bought. They also specialize in candies, cookies, cakes, pies, & pastries. They have plans of opening a retail location on the westside, and I am all too excited.
  • Hoppy Monk finally opened up their kitchen a couple of months ago. I was underwhelmed by the lack of veg options & the greasy, bland appetizer that I ordered (Trappist mushrooms). I also didn’t appreciate being charged for an extra aioli when I only received two (menu said it came with 3). They’re still working out the kinks, so hopefully everything will be improved upon.
  • Primo’s Craft Beer has opened & I have not been there yet! It’s located in the UTEP area, and boasts a wide beer selection.
  • Steak houses and seafood restaurants popped up all over town, but I’m not going to list them for obvious reasons. Let me know if one offers a good veg option (I have a steak lover at home).
  • Someone on Facebook reminded me to mention Valentine’s Kitchen, next to Hope and Anchor, which supposedly serves up some really good food. Doesn’t sound very veg friendly though. Check out this review from the UTEP Prospector.

Clockwise from left: Buffet @ Indian Curry Leaf, Portabella Burger @ Create Food Truck, Vegetarian @ Potbelly,Veggie Delight @ Spec's

2012 Brings Good & Bad News

  • Sunset Pizza is closing down on Jan 21. This breaks my heart immensely. I’ve always thought that they served the best pizza in town, and this place holds significant memories. Fortunately, their menu & passion will carry on under a new name & location at Tosca Pizzeria, 4017 N. Mesa (where San Francisco Oven used to be) in March 2012.
  • El Paso is finally getting a Chipotle!!! It will be located near UTEP in the shopping center at 2900 N. Mesa. Some people are disappointed by another burrito place opening in our predominantly Hispanic town, but haters gonna hate. I LOVE this place. It’s delicious and veg friendly.
  • We’re still awaiting the opening of Square Cow Burgers, Beer, & Wine. I sure hope they have a veggie burger.
  • VSEP will offer an Indian cooking class, as well as continue to host bake sales and dinners.
  • Fire (inside the DoubleTree Hotel) stopped serving the DoubleTree Hugger sandwich. It turns out that Kipp’s Cheesesteak’s veggie sandwich is cooked in beef stock.

Personal Highlights

I saved my personal highlights for last in case you didn’t want to read them. 2011 was a great year for me foodwise. I fully devoted myself to this blog, and my pictures improved dramatically when I invested in a fancy camera.

  • VSEP events: The Vegetarian Society hosted some fun and educational events. My favorites were the Arirang Tour & a cooking class held at Singapore Cafe.
  • I won a Big Green Egg Grill from Harmony Valley Foods for my Chili Chile Cheeseburger recipe!
  • The El Paso Times interviewed me & wrote up a nice big article in the Living section, which in turn, drove a lot of traffic to this blog.
  • Finally attended La Vina’s Wine festival. Read about it here.
  • Picked my own veggies in La Union, NM from The Maze’s garden.
  • VSEP sponsored my participation in the 23rd Annual Lone Star Vegetarian Chili-Cook Off. Alas, I did not place.
  • I participated in Vegan MOFO. This really helped me find focus and inspiration. It also accelerated the amount of posts I wrote during that month. Most importantly, the sense of community was amazing.
  • Found out that Hot Dog on a Stick serves veggie dogs on a stick. $3 is what you pay for nostalgia, convenience, & greasy goodness.
  • Lean Cuisine started offering Veggie Cuisine entrees featuring Gardein products. You can find them at Walmart.
  • I also invested in an iPhone and I hate to admit it, but I love it. I’ve posted less restaurant reviews due to the Foodspotting app. Other apps I frequently use are Instagram, Epicurious, and Urbanspoon.

Clockwise from left: Arirang Market, My winning burger entry, La Vina Winery, Lean Cuisine & Gardein joined forces, Chickpea Soup recipe forVegan Mofo, La Union garden

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and comment in 2011!

November 2011 Events

We’re already in November and here I am, perpetually trying to catch up with everything. I’ve been adjusting to yet another new work schedule, planning on selling vegan cupcakes, and getting ready to compete in the 23rd Annual Lone Star Vegetarian Chili Cook-off (!). I will be competing on behalf of the Vegetarian Society of El Paso, who has graciously agreed to fund my trip there! I’m super excited to go, but of course all the fun things are happening this weekend.

FYI, I’ll soon be posting a roundup of some veg Thanksgiving recipes that have caught my eye.

Here’s a list of the events going on this month that are veg friendly. Please let me know if I’ve left anything out. I didn’t include Let’s Cook El Paso, which takes place this Saturday, November 12, because I wasn’t sure how veg friendly it would be. Feel free to also tell me if you plan on going to any of these events and if you liked/disliked them.

Please note the upcoming deadlines to register on some of the events. 

Saturday, November 12 
VSEP Vegan Bake Sale9:30 am-2 pm
Cielo Vista Natural Market, 8900 Viscount
Part of the proceeds will go to a local animal shelter.
If you would like to volunteer to bake or staff the table, please contact Liz at liz.walsh.rotifer@gmail.com or call 915-342-7630.

Sunday, November 13
Hope & Anchor’s 3rd Annual Chili Cook Off: 4 pm (3 pm for participants)
$20 to compete (entry fee due Saturday, November 12), $5 to taste chili, $2 hot dogs
Proceeds benefit the Rescue Mission of El Paso
Carnivore & Herbivore Categories. 1st Place: $100, 2nd Place: $50, Crowd Favorite $25 (I’m totally taking cred for this addition)

Saturday, November 19
Compassionate Thanksgiving Dinner (Reserve & pay online by Nov. 15): Meet & greet @ 6 pm, Eat @ 6:30 pm
Sunland Park Holiday Inn, 900 Sunland Park Dr.
Cost: $15
With special guest speaker, Dr. Melanie Joy! You can check out her newest book at the library. Request Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, & Wear Cows from EPPL’s online catalog here.

By the way, I’m thinking of starting a Vegan Drinks meetup in El Paso. Would anyone be interested in planning, promoting, or attending?

 

Chow Down @ the Chamizal

The Vegetarian Society of El Paso is screening the documentary Chow Down this Friday, July 8 at 7:30 pm at the theater of the Chamizal National Memorial (800 San Marcial). The documentary follows Charles, as he reverses heart disease with diet. Charles is a 45 year old husband and father of two who learns that he has blockages in his heart so severe that the surgeon refuses to operate.  Tickets are only $5 and can be purchased at the door on Friday. The cost of the ticket will be used to cover the cost of screening the movie.

The picnic has been canceled.
There will also be a vegan potluck picnic before the movie at 6 pm at the main entrance of the theater. If you would like to attend the picnic, please email Greg at vegetexan@aol.com to let him know that you will be attending and what you will bring. You can also call him before 5 pm at 915-532-7273 ext. 123. You will need to bring your own plate, cup, and utensils.

Check out these sites:

Vegetarian Society of El Paso
Chow Down Movie Site (view the trailer)
Vegan Potluck ideas from VegNews

Bake Sale: Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes

Hopefully you took part in Dining Out For Life yesterday, but if you didn’t, I have another “food for a good cause” opportunity for you. The Vegetarian Society of El Paso will host another vegan bake sale tomorrow (Saturday, April 30) from 11 am-2 pm. All of the proceeds from this bake sale will go to the Animal Rescue League of El Paso! The bake sale is also part of the third annual Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale event (April 23-May 1, 2011).

My heart was set on making pumpkin cupcakes this time (I had a can of pumpkin puree that I wanted to use).  I scoured my favorite sites, gave up, and tried the Google Recipes search feature. I found some beautifully delicious looking pumpkin spice cupcakes w/cream cheese frosting courtesy of Vegan Good Eats and Jodycakes of Houston. There’s even a step by step video! Unfortunately, I did not make the accompanying cream cheese frosting. Instead, I made a different version of VegNews’ Fluffy Coconut Frosting. These cupcakes turned out amazingingly moist and delicious! I took the test batch to work, and my coworkers loved them. They had no idea the cupcakes were vegan!

Notes: I subbed almond milk for soy milk (it was all I had). I did some research and found that soy milk works best for vegan buttermilk due to its protein content. I’m not sure if it made much of a difference. I used Earth Balance margarine, which can be found at Wal-mart and Sun Harvest, and Spectrum vegetable shortening, also at Sun Harvest.

Be sure to check out these sites:

Pumpkin Spice Vegan Cupcakes

¼ cup soy milk
1 tsp. vinegar, preferably apple cider
1 cup all purpose flour, preferably unbleached
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1/3 cup each vegan sugar and packed brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp each ginger, nutmeg, & salt
1/8 teaspoon cardamom (optional)
Dash of ground cloves
½ cup pumpkin puree
¼ cup unsweetened apple sauce
3 tbsp canola oil
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350° and line 12 count muffin tin with cupcake papers.
In a measuring cup, combine milk & vinegar to create soy “buttermilk. Allow to sit and curdle while preparing all the other ingredients.

In a large mixing bowl, combine sugars and whisk until smooth. Sift together all additional dry ingredients, including the spices and salt into the sugars. Whisk to combine.

In small bowl, stir together pumpkin, applesauce, oil and vanilla.
Pour wet ingredients into dry, adding soy “buttermilk” last. Combine all ingredients until smooth and pour into the prepared pan, filling cups about halfway. Bake for 18-22 minutes or until the tops spring back to a light touch.

“Buttercream” Frosting
Makes 2 cups

¾ cup vegan shortening
¾ cup non-hydrogenated margarine
1½ cups powdered sugar
1 tbsp non-dairy milk
1 tsp almond extract

In an electric stand mixer or with a hand mixer, beat shortening until creamy. Add margarine and whip into shortening. Stop mixer, and scrape sides of bowl. With mixer on low, add powdered sugar. Once mixed in, stop the machine. Add non-dairy milk and almond extract, then mix. Scrape sides of bowl, and whip frosting on high for several minutes until fluffy.

Straight out of the oven. I didn't expect them to rise so much!

Arirang Market Tour

El Paso surprisingly has several different Asian markets across town, but I’ve only been to two on the eastside. I’m not familiar with the northeast, so I jumped at the chance to visit Arirang Market, located at 9728 Dyer, near the police station and library. Becky Rodenberg, who is the owner and chef of Singapore Cafe, also happens to be a member of the Vegetarian Society (VSEP). She graciously offered to give VSEP members a tour of the market, demystify ingredients, provide cooking tips, and answer questions for free!

I really loved this store. It’s clean, the aisles aren’t crowded, the staff is friendly, they carry a small selection of fresh produce, and they specialize in Korean products, but still a carry a good variety of other Asian products at affordable prices. I was able to recognize Jubu, the Korean magazine that we subscribe to at the library. If you love mochi (confectionary rice cakes), then you need to go to this market! I think they had every type of packaged mochi: fresh, refrigerated, unrefrigerated, frozen, etc. Not that I’m familiar with Korean cuisine, but I had no idea that the use of acorns was so common in Korea. Acorn flour/starch, jelly (similar to jello), and fresh noodles are sold at Arirang.

Becky is super nice and personable, and really knows all about various Asian cuisines! She might even host a cooking class! Below, you’ll find an overview of what we learned from her yesterday. To find out about upcoming events or become a member, visit the Vegetarian Society’s website at www.vsep.org, or catch them on Facebook and Twitter.

Becky’s Tips & Opinions:

  • On dried shitake mushrooms: She recommends soaking them in cold water for a couple of hours, but you can cheat and soak them in hot water for 30 minutes. Cold water will help retain more flavor.
  • On Asian products: She prefers products from Korea and Japan, rather than China. They are usually of higher quality.
  • On Sesame Oil: Add sesame oil at the end of the cooking process. You’ll lose flavor if you add it at the beginning. She recommends using Kadoya Brand Sesame Oil, or any brand from Japan.
  • On Spring Rolls: The trick to rolling tighter spring rolls: Briefly soak rice paper in warm water, place filling on the rice paper, & wait a minute or 2 before you begin rolling.
  • On Soybeans: You can make soybean pancakes by soaking the beans overnight and blending them in a blender.
  • On Daikon: Packaged daikon has added saccharin. To reduce the sweetness, rinse and soak in vinegar.
  • On Rice Cakes (not mochi): The packaged rice cakes in the refrigerated section of Arirang can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. Becky likes to soak them, saute them in oil, and sprinkle brown sugar over them. The small flat oval rice cakes can be added to soups.
  • On Vinegar: Becky likes to use plain white vinegar. Korean vinegar is different; it’s very concentrated and acidic. She hasn’t been able to find it here.

My purchases included cut wakame (dried seaweed), Nori Fumi Furika rice seasoning (this stuff is addicting!), fresh sesame leaves, sesame oil, a purple sweet potato, and a bottle of Hite beer (Korea’s most popular beer!). I made a quick and simple dinner that was inspired by the tour that I’ll share in my next post. The beer really was refreshing and had a malty flavor.

If you missed the tour, feel free to ask any questions. I can pass them along to Becky. If you were on the tour, feel free to correct me or add anything I missed.

Open 7 days a week!

Homemade packaged items at the front of the store.

Becky explaining seaweed and nori wrappers.

Becky explaining tofu cutlets in the refrigerated area. You can stuff them with rice that is seasoned like sushi rice (vinegar, sugar, & salt) or use sushi rice mix powder, and fry them.

I'm still learning my camera, so this & some of the other photos aren't focused correctly.