Vegetarian Paradise Looks a Lot Like the ’50’s

“Meat-Free since ‘83” is the motto plastered all over the walls of the retro-inspired Chicago Diner. Fast forward 31 years and it still has the same retro feel, and is still the best vegetarian spot in Chicago.

Though the diner was a trailblazer when it opened, vegetarianism and veganism have gained popularity and thus brought some competition.

“In the early days they made fun of us. Now they copy us,” said owner Mickey Hornick in a recent interview with the Boston Globe.

Despite the growing competition, Chicagoans love the familiar diner as much as ever. The Radical Reuben sandwich and vegan milkshakes have been the crowd favorites since the diner’s opening, and continue to be their bestsellers.

Other items on the menu include buffalo “wingz”, “cheezeburgers”, and “chickun” sandwiches.

All of the dishes are prepared using seitan, a soy-based substitute. Guests are offered the choice of dairy or non-dairy cheese, though all of the desserts are non-dairy.

Located in the Boystown neighborhood, not far from Wrigley Field, the Chicago Diner has established itself as somewhat of an icon. It is on the first floor of a vintage 3-flat building on Halsted St., and can only seat approximately 45 people maximum.

The size certainly makes it difficult to secure a table, especially during the evenings, on weekends, and with parties of four or more. However, crowds of people still wait sometimes up to an hour to have a bite at this famous hotspot.

For those few who are unwilling to wait for a seat at the restaurant, the Diner’s “cheezecake”, along with their other desserts, became so popular that they are now sold in Whole Foods stores (exclusively in Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Missouri, and Michigan).

To add to its success, the Chicago Diner has released two cookbooks: The Chicago Diner Cookbook and The New Chicago Diner Cookbook. The demand for its great vegetarian food has grown so much that the Diner has opened a second location in the Logan Square area.

For vegetarians, vegans, and foodies alike, the Chicago Diner is a true gem that never disappoints.

 

 

Do you have a vegetarian restaurant in your neighborhood? What is your favorite item on the menu?

Queen of the Power Bloggers

Blogging has become much more than just a group of stay-at-home moms writing down some memorable moments and tips for other moms. It is now easier than ever for a blogger to turn their blog into their business, sometimes bringing in enough income to support their families.

At the forefront of this movement is Danielle Wiley, CEO of Sway Group LLC. After leaving Edelman Public Relations in 2010, Wiley started Sway Group to represent bloggers on their quest to take their business to the next level.

“Bloggers were having to maneuver contracts with marketing agencies, and the marketing agencies were in turn having to seek out which bloggers would best represent the brand. I started Sway Group to fill in this gap”, said Wiley.

Within its first week, Sway Group had already signed on 25 powerful bloggers. Since then, the Sway roster has grown to 85 bloggers with a combined 50 million page views per month.

“We offer a service that technically anyone can do, but we do it well and we do it for free.”

By free, Wiley is referring to the commission driven setup of the company. She does not charge any marketing agencies for connecting them with appropriate bloggers, but takes a percentage of commission from the revenue that she brings to the bloggers.

Thanks to Wiley, the sky is the limit for any aspiring blogger. Many of the bloggers on the Sway roster have gone on to seal book deals, advertisements, and even appearances on HGTV.

“I think that many of our bloggers feel comfortable with me representing them because I started as a blogger. I have corporate experience in public relations, but it’s the fact that I can relate to them as a blogger as well. I was in the same position.”

Wiley’s blog FoodMomiac is about life as a mother of two middle-aged kids living in Chicago, as well as traveling the country. Though she doesn’t update it nearly as regularly as she used to, it still serves as an example of what kind of mom, blogger, and genuine person she is.

Vegetables for Breakfast?!

Hi everyone! Sorry it’s been a while since my last recipe post. While I was gone, I started the Whole30 Challenge. Since I’m vegetarian, this month isn’t exactly going to be a cake-walk (even though I would totally walk hundreds of miles for a cake right about now). However, I have found some awesome new recipes that, I swear to you, could NOT get any easier. I found this recipe on CanadaGirlEatsPaleo (an awesome blog you should definitely check out), but adapted it to fit within my Whole30 restrictions. As it turns out, you only need two ingredients!

To make my sweet potato “pancakes”, you only need one egg and a small (cooked) sweet potato (or half of a large one). Mash it up with the egg until the mixture is batter-like, and then just cook it like normal pancakes (they’ll be easier to flip if they are smaller). That’s it!

 

Image

Image

I know they’re not beautiful. I’m just a beginner, guys. I mixed some pecans into my batter and ate them with some butter and cinnamon, but there is plenty of room to experiment!

Bonus: If sweet potatoes aren’t your thing, this also works with a banana!

Enjoy!

Fritattas are my go-to dish when I have a bunch of leftover veggies and I don’t want to make a salad. Here is a quick video demonstrating how to make a fritatta. In addition, set your oven to 400 degrees (this isn’t mentioned in the video).

Easy Veggie Fritatta

No Money is No Excuse for Your Poor Diet

February is the time of year when most New Years resolutions go out the window, or in other words, people ditch their diets. Out of all the excuses that people often give as to why they can’t and don’t clean up their diets, one of the most common has to be that “healthier foods are too expensive.”

One person who doesn’t believe this excuse is Laura Martin, a senior at The University of Illinois at Chicago. She has created “Hungry, Broke, and Confused”, a blog on a mission to prove that even students have the money and skills to eat healthier. She also shows Chicagoans that they have access to affordable grocery stores and restaurants right outside their doors.

Martin’s path to wellness started long before her blog. About four years ago, her dad decided to turn his life around. “He started eating organic foods and working out like a mad man”, says Martin.

She then said that “just looking at his change inspired me to be more conscious of what I’m putting into my body”. This inspired her to then increase others’ awareness of how the foods they are eating are causing damage to their bodies.

As a waitress, she has Mondays off of work, so she uses this day to plan her meals for the week to make sure she doesn’t break her budget when grocery shopping.

By doing this, she is able to limit herself to only spending $40-$60 per week on groceries.

This is a manageable grocery budget for most people and shows that eating healthy requires tons of money. Martin details where she does this grocery shopping so that Chicagoans know about great stores in their neighborhoods.

Using these cheap ingredients, she makes breakfast, lunch, dinner and desserts. Her recipes are easy to follow and don’t require any advanced kitchen appliances.

Martin demonstrates that as long as you’ve got an acceptable kitchen, $40 per week, and a strong commitment to better health, you can buy and prepare healthier foods that will still leave you with “that same satisfaction of a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ‘Half-Baked’”.

 

Laura’s blog has great tips on finding fresh, nutritious foods in Chicago, with most of them being vegetarian-friendly! Check out her blog Hungry, Broke, and Confused for more great recipes and advice on eating a balanced diet on a budget.

Beans, Beans, The Magical Fruit

Even though I’m not vegan, I have recently been trying to eliminate most dairy to help with my skin and sensitive stomach. As I mentioned before, quesadillas are one of my specialties and such an easy food for beginners to make. So how do I substitute the cheese? With beans! Or more specifically, hummus.

Beans are a staple in a vegetarian diet because they are chock full of protein. They are also high in fiber, low in calories, and have antioxidants. PhD Mark Brick even says that “beans are pretty much the perfect food” in this WebMD food profile.

Next time you’re craving a quesadilla, swap some chipotle hummus for the cheese and throw in some peppers and spinach. Not only is it a healthier alternative, but it’s delicious! I have even started to prefer it over classic quesadillas.

(Tip: refried beans work just as well!)

5 Kitchen Tools Every Vegetarian Needs

800px-Small_appliance

Photo: By Tumi-1983 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

How many times have you found a vegetarian recipe that you couldn’t wait to try, but then realized that you don’t have the required kitchen tools? For me, the answer is probably in the hundreds. Unlike ingredients, you can’t always run out and buy what you need right then and there. Some take some researching, and often they can be a bit pricey. Here are some tools that every beginner needs.

1. Food processor/blender
I have found that tons of vegetarian recipes require ingredients to be broken down in the processor, so this is a great investment that you will use constantly.

2. Good quality knives
There is nothing more frustrating that trying to cut with dull, lousy knives.

3. Large, non-stick pan
Bigger is better because it makes the pan more versatile and worth the money.

4. Measuring cups/spoons
This may be a no-brainer, but a recent visit to a friend’s house showed me that not everyone has enough measuring tools. Make sure to get plenty of sizes.

5. Strainer
Plenty of vegetarian recipes are pasta based, so this is a necessity.

Buffalo Chickpea Quinoa Burgers

IMG_0010

Now I know you’re thinking this recipe looks way too complicated and there is no way she is a beginner in the kitchen! Well, that’s where you’re wrong. For my first post, I decided to make these buffalo chickpea quinoa burgers because I wanted to demonstrate that impressive and healthy food doesn’t have to be hard! What I love about these burgers is that they look complicated to the naked eye, but in reality they’re as easy as mixing the ingredients together in a big bowl and making patties out of it. Even I can handle that!

Makes 5 burgers
Ingredients:
For the Burgers:
1/4 cup uncooked quinoa
1 (540mL) can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup minced shallot ( I substituted minced red onion and liked it)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup buffalo sauce (I used Sweet Baby Ray’s Wing Sauce)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
First, get started cooking your quinoa. For the 1/4 cup required for this recipe, you’ll need 1/2 cup of water. Bring the water to a boil, add the quinoa, and then reduce the heat and let simmer for about 15 minutes. I brought my heat almost all the way down, and still ended up burning the bottom of the quinoa, so make sure to keep an eye on it while it’s cooking! No worries, only the bottom was burnt, so I was able to recover most of it (surprisingly).

IMG_0011

While the quinoa is cooking, put your rinsed chickpeas in the food processor and pulse until they are crumby, as shown in the picture above. You don’t want them to get creamy, so take it slow with the food processor (note: if you don’t have a food processor, just use a fork to break them up). Remove the chickpeas from the processor and put into a large bowl, and then put your oats in the processor to break them down a bit as well. They shouldn’t end up in a powder! (If no processor, they can be left whole).

IMG_0002

Transfer the oats to the large bowl with the chickpeas. Add in the onion, egg, buffalo sauce, garlic, salt, and pepper. By this time, your quinoa should be done cooking, so add that to the bowl as well. You only need a fork to mix everything together, as you don’t want the chickpeas to get too creamy. If the mixture seems too wet to form patties (mine was a bit like a thick, chunky batter), add in the 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs to soak up some of the moisture.

IMG_0012

This should be your end result. Once you get to this point, you are ready to make the patties! Get your non-stick pan ready on the stove over a medium-low heat. This mixture is definitely not the easiest to work with, and it was sticking to my hands while I was forming the patties. It was a little tricky, but I eventually got them to fall from my hand into the pan. They stayed together beautifully once in the pan!

IMG_0013

Cook them until they start to brown, or about 4 minutes on each side. You will end up with a slightly crispy patty on the outside, with a softer chickpea center. I would have plated them to really give you the full effect, but I cooked these burgers to eat throughout the week, so they went straight into the fridge once I was done cooking.

Serving suggestion: Add a bun, lettuce, tomato, bleu cheese crumbles, and avocado.

Enjoy!

We’re All Beginners Here

Welcome! Whether you are a committed vegetarian, looking to cook more meat-free meals, or just need some recipes you can make without screwing up, you’ve come to the right place. While I have recently perfected homemade pizza and quesadillas, many other meals are more foreign to me than Mandarin. So, why should you take advice and recipes from me? Because if I can make it, you can make it. I hope you find comfort and humor in my blunders while learning easy and healthy vegetarian meals that you can’t mess up.
(updated 3/4)