Friday, September 23, 2016

Cauliflower with Tempeh (Waterless with No Added Fat); Colonial Williamsburg dining and a great find in Richmond, VA

My daughter and I enjoyed two nights at Colonial Williamsburg and returned last night. I'll share some food notes about our trip at the bottom.

For dinner tonight, I thought that I'd use a head of cauliflower. I don't think that I've ever cooked cauliflower waterlessly (in a Saladmaster low temperature stainless steel pan with a vapor release top) before - and ended up with great results. Here is what I did.

  • 1/2 cup onion cut into 1/2" cubes
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely (1/8") diced
  • Florets from medium head of cauliflower (5 cups)
  • Small bell pepper cut into 3/4" squares (a little over a cup) 
  • 4 ounces tempeh cut into 3/8" cubes
  • 1/2 t turmeric (or less for a lighter finished color)
  • 1/2 t black sesame seed
  • 1t fennel seed
  • 1/4 t (or to taste) salt
  • 1t lemon juice
  1. I put, in order, the onion, garlic, cauliflower, bell pepper, and tempeh into a large Saladmaster stock pot.
  2. I turned the heat on medium and covered the pan. When I heard the vapor release start to jiggle, indicating steam coming out of the vegetables, I turned the heat down to low to stop the jiggling and cooked for 20m.
  3. I mixed in the seasonings and lemon juice, and served with brown rice.

Dinner was surprisingly good; we all enjoyed it. I was impressed with how good waterless cooking of cauliflower turned out, neither soggy nor firm and with flavor intact. The spicing was just right with a little dominance of the fennel taste.

Ideas for the future

I should cook cauliflower waterlessly more often. Other techniques of cooking, except perhaps sauteeing, which I've not done except incidentally when the cauliflower is a minor ingredient in a stir fry, seem to sap cauliflower of much of its mild flavor. A little "heat", such as with pieces of jalapeno, might be nice. Other possible ingredients to incorporate could be citrus zest and cabbage. I could have added the spices before cooking to spread their flavors more, but they came out well added at the end this time.

Food at Colonial Williamsburg, VA

Colonial Williamsburg! We had a great trip, enjoying seeing history come alive. We even met a girl (10 years old?) who loves it there so much that she blogs about it.

We generally enjoy getting at least good if not great vegan food when we're out. Williamsburg was a bit more challenging for us. We were told that all of the on-site restaurants had vegan options, but found that not to be true. For Wednesday's lunch, we stopped at Chowning's Tavern and were surprised to be told that even their vegetable sandwich had cheese built in. We took their recommendation and walked on to another charming restored tavern, Shields. They also had a vegetable sandwich, but were much more accomodating; they don't have cheese already cooked into the spinach (as the first restaurant said) and, though they weren't sure the bread was vegan, could serve grilled (cooked in a pan and not co-mingled with meat on a grill) vegetables with hummus.

The tavern fair was good and it was delightful setting. As we were eating, people dressed in period costumes came through to entertain us. My daughter really wanted to repeat the experience, perhaps at The King's Arms, which staff invited us to. I sure wish that they had more than one dish that they could cobble together. The food itself was good but oily.

I enjoy fine dining and feel that any chef, particularly at a good or excellent restaurant, should easily be able to craft an excellent vegan meal. Of course, I wish that all restaurants had significant vegan selections already on their menus. Fine dining restaurants, I would hope, would have at least one fabulous signature vegan dish.

I made reservations at the Terrace Room inside their beautiful Williamsburg Inn (rooms for approximately $400-600+ a night!!). Looking online, their menu doesn't appear to have a single vegan option. I had called and they assured me that their Chef could make a fine vegan meal. When we arrived, they had a small page of a vegan menu. None of the few items interested my 7-year-old, and the kind Chef said he could try to accomodate our desires. She wanted pasta and guacamole. I went for a quinoa cake and asked that Chef include beans with her pasta - he immediately kindly asked which kind of beans, and we requested black.

Our server brought out good guacamole with fried chips. I asked if the chips were fried with meat, and they were, so were taken back. A few minutes later, the server brought out a great choice, a plate of crispy romaine lettuce. My daughter's pasta was good but oily; it had cubes of carrot along with the beans and looked like it had been cooked in vegetable stock. I liked the small (ditalini?) and chewy pasta tubes. My dish was tasty but, again, a bit too oily.

Overall, we enjoyed our dinner - it's great to get out for fine dining in beautiful surroundings (they had a pianist, as well). The food was good and the staff was accomodating (almost all; one server couldn't understand that we didn't want butter or non-vegan bread), but the food wasn't really up to gourmet standards. We've had great experiences at other fine dining restaurants including at resorts such as the creative and tasty dishes that Disney that are readily available.

We had a poor lunch on our second day. We didn't have enough time for a tavern meal, though we sought the fun atmosphere. We tried Raleigh Tavern Bake Shop which is a quick service "grab and go" place. I was very disappointed that not even the salads were vegan; they had meat and/or cheese. One of the rolls appeared vegan, and we had it. There literally was nothing else there except for potato chips. We bought their fruit salad that had a carton of cow's milk yogurt in it and returned the yogurt so that it might be used. I apologized to my hungry daughter about chips - she's had potato chips rarely if at all, and didn't much like them. I had a Lärabar to help tide her over.

Next time that we visit Colonial Williamsburg, we'll try to arrange things so that we are near Merchants Square just west of the historic district. They have a variety of restaurants that may be good choices (but which I've not explored), such as possibly Aromas World, Seasons, or perhaps pizza at Stephanos Pizza. They also have a farmers' market at times. Further afield in town, I've read that good choices may be had at a variety of restaurants, such as Food for Thought, Istanbul Restaurant, Nawab Indian Cuisine, Lokal, and Chipotle.

All in all, we loved visiting Colonial Williamsburg, but sure wish that it might be a bit more accommodating to healthful whole food plant-based dining. The working class of 18th century Colonial Williamsburg typically ate corn hominy and other grain porridges, as well as simple soups, after all. A growing and significant number of people prefer to order vegan foods when eating out.

The good food news is that on our drive home, we stopped at Ellwood Thompson's in Richmond, VA, about 45m away and enroute home. It is a good grocery store with a fantastic prepared food bar! They have a sandwich bar with some good vegan choices. We ventured into the salad bar area and initially found a good hot bar with maybe half vegan items, a regular cold salad bar almost entirely vegan, and a raw bar with 1 vegetarian and 2 vegan items. Staff drew our attention to yet another hot bar, all (or almost all) vegan! They even had an extensive set of desserts in their bakery, most of which were vegan!

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At Mon Sep 26, 03:14:00 PM EDT, Blogger KathyD said...

This information about Colonial Willamsburg is very helpful. I visited there as a child (many years ago and pre-vegetarian) and was considering a return trip for vacation a couple of years ago. From what I could determine online, the vegetarian/vegan options were slim to none, so I decided not to go.

Let's hope that your family's requests will be noted and some changes will be made for future or prospective guests. Who knows how much business they are missing by not providing plant-based menu items? Also, I am sure that people who eat animal products would not enjoy some vegetarian/vegan as well and just more healthful eating in general. I'm glad that you and your family had a good time despite the challenges.

At Tue Sep 27, 01:21:00 AM EDT, Blogger Dilip said...

Thanks, KathyD, for the kind words. We loved visiting Colonial Williamsburg and know that we just have to be prepared for not the best food choices.


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