Monday, February 28, 2011

QT Vietnamese Sandwich

During my winter vacation review, I mentioned Ken and I ate some Banh Mi. I forgot to mention that those particular Banh Mi are my favorite in the city: from QT Vietnamese Sandwich. I'm not the only one who loves this place. Mac & Cheese and Fries with That Shake reviewed it years ago (and with better pictures), and CityPaper gave a glowing review around the same time. . But that's not gonna stop me from adding my two cents, and assuring you that they are still as delicious as they were 2 years ago.
QT has two vegetarian options: The lemongrass tofu, and the tofu, mushroom and onion. I prefer the former, Ken likes the latter. The lemongrass tofu is pure perfection. Warm, sliced thin with a crispy texture and kissed with the subtle elegance of lemongrass. Add pickled veggies, a long cucumber spear, cilantro and a fresh roll, and you've got yourself a tasty sandwich. Pro tip: to make yours vegan, ask for the sandwich without mayo or butter (they've been known to butter a roll or two).

Did I mention that these bad boys cost $4.95 a sandwich?? The service is also extremely friendly. I know, it's confusing, but I promise, you're still in Philadelphia...
The tofu, mushroom and onion has tofu cut and cooked to a similar consistency, but looses the lemongrass in favor of earthy sauteed mushrooms and onions. Though this isn't my sandwich of choice, I do always make sure to snag a bite or two from Ken. And I have no pictures of it, because it always gets gobbled up too quickly.
Traditional Banh Mi has beef or pork, or some other gross dead animals that I don't eat. But these sandwiches aren't about the meat. QT has all the necessary components of the sandwich perfected: the roll (crispy outside, airy insides), the pickled veggies (tart and crunchy), and the cilantro (give me more!). And that tofu, geez Louise, I'd like to eat it by the bucket! QT has other things on the menu, like rice dishes, but I don't think I'll ever get any further than the Banh Mi. It's just too good to pass by.
Next time you're in Chinatown or have a hankering for an awesome sandwich, give QT a try. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

QT Vietnamese Sandwich
48 N 10th St
Philadelphia PA 19107
(267) 639-4520

Monday, February 21, 2011

How I Spent My Winter Vacation

It's been awhile, and I hope no one's been worried about me. I've been MIA most of this month because I've been on vacation for the last week and a half! Don't get too excited, I barely left town, but I did have a full week of no-work, responsibility-free fun. I tried to stay away from the internet as much as possible, and just enjoyed spending time with my workaholic boyfriend, who was also on vacation. I'm here to give a recap for all you Nosey Nancies out there. (Don't worry, sometimes I lurk too...)

My vacation started by baking a bunch of cupcakes and cookies and heading up to Scranton to visit family and friends and drop off an order. Banana Split cupcakes, bowling, laundry, haircuts, and vegan chili cheese fries filled up my agenda.
AND I got a belated Christmas gift from one of my closest friends, Justin. I've been drooling over this necklace for awhile, and even though I never told him about it, somehow, he knew. I guess after 15 years of friendship, it comes with the territory. But seriously, how cute is this??
I headed back to Philly, and Ken and I did some nice weekend stuff. Gospel Brunch with friends at Johnny Brenda's...
...and a visit to meet Ken's new nephew! I've been working on a blanket for him over the last month and it was awesome to finally have a sweet little baby to wrap up all warm.
We spent our Valentine's Day enjoying the beautiful weather in Philly (over 50 degrees!). We headed to Chinatown, ate some Bahn Mi and honeycomb waffles, and roamed the streets and stores finding all kinds of gems.
That night we headed to a dinner party. I made some cake: vegan chocolate cake with a raspberry Chamboard filling, a raspberry Chamboard frosting and a dark chocolate ganache topping. It needs a little tweaking before I can give you the recipe, but it was a pretty big hit among the party guests.
Tuesday, Ken took me to New York. He had planned a really sweet, romantic getaway, but God laughed at all our plans, and after losing a debit card and forgetting to take enough cash out (combined with our lack of smart phones) we had to improvise. Not to be deterred, we still had a great day full of free art at the Met, tasty snacks, and a self-guided walking tour of Ken's alma mater, NYU.  Best of all, I finally made it to Lula's Apothecary and got some vegan pistachio ice cream in my belly. I'm pretty sure I'd walk 20 miles in a mud storm with someone whipping me the whole way to get another scoop of that good stuff, so it definitely made the trip worth it. After a long day of riding trains and walking the big city, we got home late and slept like fat babies.
The rest of our vacation was pretty uneventful. I did a lot of cleaning around the house, more laundry and organizing, mixed with ample amounts of reading, loafing and snacking. I made sure to meet up with my lady friends for early-afternoon Lucille Bluth-style lunching and enjoyed the sunshine and ridiculously unseasonable temps that blessed Philadelphia last week as much as I possibly could. And of course, I got in lots of quality time with my sweet little love, Gracie LaRoux.
I didn't get to leave the Mid-Atlantic region, let alone see a sunny beach, but I did ease deeply into that stress-free vacation mind-set. Now it's back to work, back to baking, back to cold temps, and back to the grind...

Monday, February 7, 2011

Lemon Bars, Episode 2: The Agar Agar Strikes Back

No surprise here, but this winter's been wearing me out. Sure, it's been cold. And there's been lots of snow. I can deal with that. But I just can't deal with a week of GRAY skies. I mean seriously. The trees are dead. The snow is dirty. I need some color here. (Note: The Photo below was taken at noon. NOON.)
I can handle single-digit temps and wintry mix if I can just get blue sky and sunshine a couple days a week. But no, a week of gray. This weather had me on the edge and I needed some color. So I did what always seems to make sense. I made some lemon bars. Bring the sunshine in.
A year ago, I battled my lemon bar demons. But that was back in my pregan (pre-vegan) days when butter and eggs were still in my fridge. A vegan attempt was long over due, especially since I have at least 3 different recipes to try. I started with Isa and Terry's version, since that's usually the best place to start.
The jury's still out on this recipe. As far as appearances go, these did the trick. They looked beautiful; bright, sunny, little gems in my dreary February world. I'm just not sure I liked the taste. (Though, to be sure, I kept eating them...)
They hardly had any lemon flavor, despite adding more juice and zest than the recipe called for. And the texture was just weird. Too solid, yet soft. Sorta like those fruit-shaped jelly candies. Weird.  Maybe I loved my pregan lemon bars a little to much for these to compare. Or maybe I screwed up the agar agar. It was my first time working with it, and it seemed a little too thick to me. Is there a manual for baking with agar agar?
So what's the deal? Have any of you made this recipe before? Does it just not suit my taste, or did I screw up? People, I need to know. Enlighten me.

Until then, I think I'll move on to the recipe in The Joy of Vegan Baking. Lemon bars, you haven't heard the last of me...

Vegan Lemon Bars
from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar


1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour 

2/3 cup powdered sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

1 cup non-hydrogenated margarine 


1 1/3 cups water

3 tablespoons agar agar flakes

1 1/4 cups sugar

1/8 teaspoon tumeric

2/3 cup fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons arrowroot powder 

1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest (from two large lemons)

1/4 cup soymilk

Extra powdered or confectioners’ sugar to decorate finished bars 

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a 13 x 9 inch baking pan.

Pulse flour, powdered sugar and cornstarch in food processor. Add margarine in spoonfuls and blend, 8 to 10 seconds, and then pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle mixture into prepared baking pan and press firmly into an even layer with slightly raised sides to hold in the filling. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes and then bake for 40 minutes; remove from oven and let cool. Meanwhile, prepare the filling.

In a sauce pot, soak the agar agar in the water for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, zest your lemons and squeeze your lemon juice. Mix the arrowroot into the lemon juice to dissolve.

When the agar has been soaking for 15 minutes, turn the heat up and bring to a boil. Boil for about 10 minutes, or until the agar is completely dissolved. Add the sugar and tumeric and boil until dissolved, about 3 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and add the arrow root and lemon juice mixture, then add the lemon zest and soy milk. Wisk constantly until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. It should not be rapidly boiling, but lowly bubbling is ok.

Pour the mixture into the prepared crust, let cool for 20 minutes and then refrigerate for at least 3 hours, until the filling is only slightly jiggly and set. Use a sifter or a fine mesh strainer for sprinkle the bars with powdered sugar. Slice into squares and serve.