Saturday, August 22, 2009

Almost vegan in EUROPE!

It’s an exciting time in Almost Vegan-land. I’ve been writing this blog for one year this month, my 100th post is right around the corner, and…I’M GOING TO EUROPE!

It has been a dream of mine since as far back as age 10, but this trip has come together very fast, all within the last month. In a lot of ways, I feel like it’s now or never—I’m young, single, and unattached, and I have a gracious amount of flexibility from my work. The stars have aligned and I am leaving TOMORROW to take my dream trip across the continent.

I’ll be there alone, for five weeks, with one suitcase. Eek!

I’m joining a bus tour, and trekking through ten countries in 35 days. I’ll be breezing and (of course) eating my way through as many as 33 cities. Somebody pinch me!

I’ll only have minimal internet access, so sadly, a blogging hiatus is necessary. But after I come back, be prepared for a flurry of posts chock-full of almost-vegan European meals, snacks, and treats, mingled with the sites, sounds, and experiences of so many scenic lands. I’M SO EXCITED!

Below is my whirlwind itinerary, in case you get curious where I’m at on a given day. Thank you all so much for being my readers, and I can’t wait to get back and share my journey with you!

Week one: England, France, Spain
Sun 8/23: Flying overnight to London
Mon 8/24: In London
Tues 8/25: London-Dover-Calais-Paris
Wed 8/26: In Paris
Thurs 8/27: Paris-Bordeaux
Fri 8/28: Bordeaux-Biarritz-Pamplona
Sat 8/29: Pamplona-Burgos-Madrid

Week two: Spain, France, Italy
Sun 8/30: In Madrid
Mon 8/31: Madrid-Barcelona
Tues 9/1: In Barcelona
Wed 9/2: Barcelona-Cannes-Nice
Thurs 9/3: In Nice-Monte Carlo
Fri 9/4: Nice-Pisa-Florence
Sat 9/5: In Florence

Week three: Italy, Greece, Turkey
Sun 9/6: Florence-Orvieto-Rome
Mon 9/7: In Rome
Tues 9/8: Rome-Isle of Capri-Sorrento
Wed 9/9: Sorrento-Pompeii-Bari (at sea)
Thurs 9/10: Patras-Athens
Fri 9/11: Athens-Piraeus-Mykonos (at sea)
Sat 9/12: Patmos-Kusadasi (at sea)

Week four: Greece, Italy, Austria, Germany
Sun 9/13: Heraklion (Crete)-Santorini (at sea)
Mon 9/14: Piraeus-Delphi-Patras (at sea)
Tues 9/15: Ancona-Venice
Wed 9/16: In Venice
Thurs 9/17: Venice-Vienna
Fri 9/18: In Vienna
Sat 9/19: Vienna-Salzburg-Munich

Week five: Germany, Switzerland, France, Holland, England
Sun 9/20: Munich-Neuschwanstein-Lucerne
Mon 9/21: In Lucerne
Tues 9/22: Lucerne-Strasbourg-Heidelberg
Wed 9/23: Rhineland-Cologne-Amsterdam
Thurs 9/24: In Amsterdam
Fri 9/25: Amsterdam-London
Sat 9/26: Flying home!

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Early August leftovers

That’s right, August leftovers are here already. I’ve got a VERY exciting announcement to make tomorrow, and then I’m going to be away from the blogging world for a short time, so I’m getting this post out to you in advance. First up: steamed tofu and vegetables, with brown sauce and brown rice on the side, from Fortune Wok.

Here is a combo platter at my favorite Mexican restaurant in the world, Ixtapa in Lawrence, KS. I ate there weekly when I was at KU, and I miss being a regular there. This is a ginormous black bean chalupa (with minimal queso), a sope at the bottom (corn patty topped with more black beans, guacamole, and unasked-for sour cream), the best Mexican rice ever, and more black beans on the side. Their cilantro-y salsa is also unsurpassed.

Here’s something I’ve shared before—my favorite tofu-veggie pad thai, at Thai Place. They forgot to omit the bok choy this time, but I picked around it.

Henry and I ate an unbelievable weeknight dinner at Korma Sutra, my very favorite Indian restaurant. We shared chana aloo (chickpeas and potatoes in a tomato-based sauce) and gobi keema (mashed cauliflower with green peas), with naan and basmati rice. Truly some of the best Indian food out there.

For a party recently, Henry and I made an encore batch of our salsa that was wildly popular at 4th of July, this time with homemade lime-scented tortilla chips. Our salsa has home-cooked black beans, grilled onion, corn, bell pepper, diced tomatoes and chiles, and lots of garlic and cilantro. It’s infused with chili powder, cumin, cayenne, and a bit of oregano. We reconfirmed that this is a must-have for all future parties.

Also with Henry (three in a row!), plus my friend Brett from work (he of the chocolate peanut butter cookies), I finally took advantage of Holy Land Café’s lunch special. I got a falafel-and-hummus sandwich, with their famous lentil soup.

Rachel and I went to Trezo Vino Wine Bar two evenings in a row last week. Why? They have the most fantastic white sangria I’ve ever tasted.

More Mexican! Dinner last Saturday was at Maya’s, where I got black bean enchiladas and a taco, soupy pinto beans on the side, and a whole lotta rice.

For dessert, our table shared the cinnamon nachos—basically deconstructed sopapillas. They were super-deep-fried, but super-delicious.

This last one’s a teaser—for the aforementioned party, I also made no fewer than four baked desserts. I’m not going to tell you about them (though you can probably read their "nametags" if you squint), because within the next few weeks, they will make their appearances on this blog. In the meantime, feast your eyes on this tasty spread:

Remember to come back tomorrow to hear my big news. It’s a jaw-dropper!

Past leftovers...

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Spiced red lentil soup

I don’t have a special story or rambling anecdote today. No, it’s as straightforward as this: I had some veggies and lentils to use up, I came across this recipe, and a healthy, lo-cal dinner was born.

1T olive oil
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
Dash of ground cinnamon
1 small onion, chopped
1 small red pepper, chopped
2 medium carrots, shredded or chopped
29 oz. vegetable broth (or 2 bouillon cubes)
6 oz. red lentils (masoor dal)
1/8 tsp salt, or to taste
1/4 cup plain soy yogurt

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the cumin, coriander, crushed red pepper, and cinnamon, and stir until fragrant, 30 seconds.

Add the onion and cook and stir until slightly softened, about 2 minutes. (I didn’t decide to add the onion until later, so that’s why you don’t see it here, but you should definitely sauté it with the spices at this point for the best flavor.) Add the red bell pepper and carrots, and cook and stir until just tender, about 5 minutes.

Add the broth, (or two bouillon cubes + scant 4 cups water), lentils, and salt.

Bring to a boil.

Simmer until the lentils are tender, about 20 minutes.

Purée with a hand blender (or in batches in a blender). Ladle into bowls, swirl a heaping tablespoon of yogurt into each, and grind on some fresh cracked black pepper. You could also garnish with chopped cilantro, parsley, or green onions. It’s smooth, well-spiced, simple, and satisfying. Keep this in mind for your next busy weeknight!

Yield: 3 servings. Per serving: 166 calories, 5.2g fat (.5g sat), 23.6 carbs, 9g fiber, 7.6g protein.

If you like this, you might also like…
Creamy chickpea soup
White bean garlic soup
Indian curried lentils

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Raw pecan pie cookies

Have you ever thought about what you’d like your last meal to be? Now, I’m not planning on landing on death row anytime soon (although, morbid as it may be, I find this list fascinating), but I’ve given the last meal question ample consideration. I’d begin with an appetizer of hummus and pita. For my entrée, I struggle to decide between Thai Place’s cashew tofu stir fry (second pic here) and Touch of Asia’s dal makhani (right smack in the middle of this entry). Dessert, without a doubt, would be pecan pie.

I don’t know what it is about pecan pie that sings to my heart so, but I don't believe there’s anything more luscious than the syrupy symphony of sweetness that is pecan pie filling, knitted to the fragrant crunch of fresh pecans and married to a delicate, melt-in-your-mouth crust. Somebody get me a fan. Ahem. Anyway. This recipe comes courtesy of the legendary Ani Phyo, and the words "pecan pie" instantly landed it on my must-make list. Plus, it’s not only raw, but outrageously easy, so there was no excuse not to give it a try.

1 cup pecan halves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp lemon juice
1 cup dates, pitted
Unsweetened flaked coconut, optional

Combine the pecans, cinnamon, and lemon juice in the bowl of a food processor. (As I wrote about last year, on my cruise to Mexico, I got to visit a farmer’s market in Mazatlán, where I was able to purchase cheap pecans and almonds [and a liter of vanilla; I’m still proud of that!]. My long-hoarded Mexican pecans found their home in these cookies.)

Pulse until the nuts are finely chopped. Add the dates...

...and pulse to form a mixture that can stay pressed together. The smell of the pulverized pecans is heavenly.

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Divide the mixture into 10 equal portions and roll into balls. If desired, roll in unsweetened coconut. Flatten each to form a round cookie (I used the bottom of a glass, misted with cooking spray, to help). Place on the lined baking sheet.

(The four at the bottom I rolled in coconut.) Refrigerate (or freeze) the cookies to firm them up. Keep refrigerated to store.

It’s crazy that with so few ingredients, these do taste rather pecan pie-like. It’s not a dead ringer, of course, but the essence is there. The cookies are a little oily, quite chewy, and super-nutty. Until I can perfect a vegan pecan pie, these are a suitable swap to quell the craving.

Yield: 10 cookies. Per cookie: 124 calories, 7.9g fat (.5g sat), 14.8g carbs, 2g fiber, 1.4g protein.

If you like this, you might also like...
Choc-oat banana walnut cookies
Pumpkin oatmeal cookies

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Delayed July leftovers

My friend Rachel and I hit up The Drop at Martini Corner in midtown for happy hour one Thursday after work. Along with our wines, each of us ordered this hummus-and-crostini appetizer at half price. The hummus was really full-bodied, though mild in flavor. I was dismayed to see all the butter on the crostini (why don’t they mention that on the menu?!) but I decided not to be a pain and send it back. I only ate about half of it anyway.

That same night, we joined some other friends at Arizona’s in OP for a couple more drinks. Hillary ordered the nachos, and she very kindly asked for them with extra black beans instead of chicken, and minimal cheese. Another menu mishap was revealed, though, when they arrived with an absurd amount of crema sloshed all over the top. Luckily it wasn’t that hard to avoid. The guacamole was great (but is there really such a thing as bad guac?).

My favorite dish at Noodles & Co. is, by far, the Japanese Pan Noodles. I add tofu and decline the mushrooms. They have the best, chewiest udon noodles ever! I’ve actually considered asking them if I can just buy some amount of uncooked ones from them.

Surely you know by now that not a month goes by without a meal of falafel, hummus, and pita. This one’s from Jerusalem Café in Westport.

I had been craving Ethiopian for months, and my friends and I finally got to eat at Blue Nile in City Market before the Incubus show. I got my favorite, misir watt (the bigger dish on the right: red lentil stew with onion, berbere, ginger, garlic, and cardamom), with sides of dinich watt (far left: potatoes in garlic, tomato, and berbere sauce) and yekik watt (in the middle: yellow split peas with ginger, turmeric, and garlic). Ethiopan food is served (and eaten!) with injera, the bread you see rolled up alongside there. It’s made of teff flour, and it’s got the strangest-yet-most-delicious sour flavor and spongy texture. If you haven’t tried Ethiopian food, don’t be afraid of it! If you like Indian, there’s a good chance you’ll like Ethiopian.

For dessert, we shared a slice of navy bean pie. It looked and tasted exactly like pumpkin pie. If I hadn’t known it was made with white beans instead of pumpkin purée, I never could have guessed.

And lastly, I finally snapped a picture of my signature Chipotle concoction. I get very little rice, extra black beans, fajita veggies, roasted corn salsa, pico de gallo, and guacamole. 100% vegan and 100% delicioso!

Past leftovers...

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Black-eyed pea quinoa pizza

As promised, here is what I made with yesterday’s Thrive Diet raw sauces: pizza! Kind of. Brendan Brazier himself says he uses the term "pizza" loosely. It has a base, sauce, and toppings, but the similarities end there. The crust isn’t firm or crispy, and you’ll need a plate and fork to eat it—to me, it’s more of a flat casserole. Whatever you want to call it, it’s highly inventive and unexpectedly yummy.

For the crust:
1 cup cooked quinoa
1 cup cooked black-eyed peas (1/2 can)
1/2 cup chickpea flour (or whole wheat)
1/4 cup coconut oil or hemp oil
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
Sea salt to taste

Sun-dried tomato marinara
Sweet pepper hemp pesto

For the topping:
2 carrots, peeled and grated
1 cup cooked black-eyed peas (other 1/2 can)
1 red bell pepper, sliced or diced
1/2 medium onion, diced
1/2 medium sweet potato, grated
4 green onions, minced
1 tsp crushed red pepper
2T sunflower seeds

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a food processor, combine all crust ingredients.

Process until the mixture starts to ball up.

Lightly grease a 10x15-inch baking pan with coconut oil (or cooking spray). Spread the mixture across the entire pan, about 1/4-inch thick. Spread about one cup of the sun-dried tomato marinara across the crust.

Evenly sprinkle on all topping ingredients.

Bake for 45-50 minutes. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before cutting.

Top each piece with a drizzle of the sweet pepper hemp pesto, sprinkle with sunflower seeds, and serve. Even though the pizza is huge, it’s quite thin, so you’ll easily be able to polish off 1/4 of it at a time. I love the salty-savory black-eyed pea and quinoa crust, and it was perfectly complemented by the sweet sauces. Use whatever veggies you want on top (I strayed pretty far from the original recipe’s toppings), but I particularly recommend including the grated sweet potato. This thing is packed with nutrition, from healthy fats to soluble fiber to plant protein. The initial prep work was a little time-consuming, but worth it. I just lent the book to a friend, but when I get it back, I plan to try some of Brendan’s other pizza recipes as well.

Yield: 4 servings. Per serving: 492 calories, 26.2g fat (8g sat), 52.6g carbs, 11g fiber, 15.8g protein.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

A duo of raw sauces

I’ve got another two-part post for you, this time from Brendan Brazier’s Thrive Diet. He’s a vegan Ironman triathlete, and his book contains information, recipes, and meal plans for an all-vegan, high-raw, whole foods diet. I made his curry lentil crackers a few weeks ago, and really liked them. When the book came, I devoured the whole thing in just a couple of days, and excitedly high-tailed it to Wild Oats to gather some of the more uncommon ingredients he uses, including hemp oil and hemp seeds, which are called for in these recipes here. This post contains the two raw sauces that will be utilized in tomorrow’s recipe. Feel free to substitute olive oil or sesame seeds if you don’t have the hemp products.

Sun-dried tomato marinara:
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes
1 cup water
1 cup canned tomatoes
1/2 cup grated cucumber
3T hemp oil
1T balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp rosemary
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp thyme
Sea salt to taste

Soak the sun-dried tomatoes in the water for 20 minutes (retain this water). In a food processor, process all ingredients together, including sun-dried tomato water. Keep refrigerated for up to 1 week. This sauce is chunky, richly tomatoey, and very sweet. Feel free to increase the crushed red pepper to balance this, and/or be liberal with the salt.

Sweet pepper hemp pesto:
2 red bell peppers
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
1 heaping T nutritional yeast flakes
1 heaping T sesame seeds
2T hemp seeds
2T hemp oil
2 cloves garlic
Sea salt to taste

In a food processor, process all ingredients together. Keep refrigerated for up to 1 week. This one was my favorite—I thought it was actually less sweet than the marinara, and I really liked the thick-but-smooth texture.

You can eat these sauces in any way your heart desires—on pasta or vegetables, as a veggie burger or sandwich spread, as a cracker or crudité dip, etc. You’ll want to come back tomorrow, though, to see how I put them to delicious use.

Marinara—Yield: about 3 1/2 cups. Per 1/2 cup: 109 calories, 6.1g fat (1g sat), 11.3g carbs, 3g fiber, 2.2g protein.
Pesto—Yield: about 2 cups. Per 1/4 cup: 71 calories, 5.6g fat (1g sat), 3.6g carbs, 2g fiber, 2.3g protein.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Deep chocolate brownies

I have been on a casual search for awhile now for the perfect brownie recipe. I like the brownies I’ve made in the past, but I want something dense, fudgy, classic. I also, however, want a recipe that’s not terribly unhealthy. Anyone can make drop-dead-delicious brownies with a pound of butter and 8 oz. of melted chocolate and 3 cups of sugar. No, I want something nutritionally middle-of-the-road, but explosive in flavor. I want them to taste rich and decadent without monumental amounts of fat. Tall order, right? I know.

I recently came across this recipe and decided to give it a try. I was especially intrigued by the inclusion of maple syrup. They didn’t turn out to be quite what I’m looking for, but nonetheless, they were anything but shabby.

1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup soymilk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a glass 8x8 baking dish. In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, maple syrup, sugar, soymilk, and vanilla.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. I added the sugar to the large bowl a little late, as you can see. I diverted from the original recipe in that respect because sugar should technically always be considered a "wet" ingredient.

Fold the dry mixture into the wet mixture until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips and walnuts, if desired.

Pour the batter in the pan and spread it out evenly (then lick the spatula!).

Bake for 30-35 minutes (be careful not to overbake). Cool completely before cutting.

Truth be told, these were not as moist as I expected. Despite the dry crumb, once you start chewing, they condense into a startlingly intense chocolate flavor. I guess a full 1/2 cup of cocoa will do that! The taste is more akin to dark chocolate than milk chocolate, and boy, will it make you thirsty. Have a cold glass of water or soymilk on hand for gulping in between bites. Just because these aren’t my holy grail of brownies doesn’t mean they weren’t very yummy. Let’s just say I was not sorry at all for giving them a try. Meanwhile, the search continues...

Yield: 16 servings. Per serving (without nuts): 181 calories, 9.7g fat (2g sat), 24.9g carbs, 2g fiber, 1.9g protein.

If you like this, you might also like...
Chocolate brownie muffins
Deep chocolate bundt cake
White chip brownies

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Almost vegan in Dallas II

This will be fairly lengthy, so I’ll get right to it. On the way to Dallas, we stopped for lunch in Wichita. The GPS led us to a place that was supposed to be called Istanbul Café, but turned out to be the Wichita Kebab House. It was a cute little nook, and the one guy working was apparently the host, cook, waiter, and cashier.

Now, I’ve had some humongous hummus plates in my day, but the serving size of this one tops them all. The mountain of hummus sat atop a bed of roasted red peppers, and was covered with a few generous glugs of olive oil and a storm of paprika. It was served with lavash (which they called pita, but it wasn’t) and some deeply-fried and heavily-spiced crackers. Though the hummus was a little underseasoned, the texture was good, and the peppers made a nice addition. I didn’t even come close to finishing this.

A chalkboard by the door boasted "the best baklava in Kansas." How could we say no to that? We split one piece between the four of us, so my ingestion of butter and honey was minimal. I was really pleased to find it was soft enough to cut with a fork—so often the top of baklava is brittle and dry. And the taste? We were pretty blown away. It was super moist without being greasy, soft without sacrificing structure, and sweet without being cloying. It may very well deserve to be called The Best.

We encountered enough road construction in Oklahoma that I was able to read over half of Fast Food Nation. I finished it on the drive home. I borrowed the book from my friend Lindsey after seeing Food Inc. a couple weeks ago. I highly recommend both.

Luckily, we made it to Dallas in time to eat dinner before the show as planned. We hit up the illustrious Cosmic Café.

I have a treasure trove of stuff to show you from there! As you may recall, it’s an eclectic all-vegetarian joint with a hell of a personality. I’d been waiting all year to get to eat there again. We started with the hummus appetizer. (Yes, I know I had hummus for lunch. Trust me, I’d eat it at three meals a day if I could.) We actually liked it more than the hummus at the kebab house. It had a homemade texture and just the right amount of salt. We gobbled it up expeditiously with the toasted pita.

I had the Buddha’s Delight platter, containing a cup of dal (lentil soup), a samosa, a potato-pea-eggplant curry, basmati rice, whole wheat naan, and pappadum. Although it reaffirmed that I do not like eggplant (it was worth a shot), all the rest of it was outstanding, as expected.

Tyler got what I had last year, the Bombay Sage. There’s curried lentils inside those flour tortillas.

Brian ate the ever-popular veggie quesadilla, which both Tyler and Emily have chosen in the past.

Henry got the spinach enchiladas, made with red corn tortillas, topped with crema, and served with rice and black beans.

We splurged and got two desserts, one vegan and one not. The vegan selection was a Frangelico-scented chocolate hazelnut cake.

The non-vegan choice was a mango cheesecake. Both were excellent.

Stuffed to the gills, we headed to the Nokia Theatre in Grand Prairie to watch Tori Amos for the second time in two days (she’d been at Starlight Theatre in KC the night before). What a goddess.

Late Saturday afternoon, we found ourselves snacking at a Mexican place in Carrollton called the Blue Agave. It was a restaurant and bar with over 150 types of tequila, all made from 100% agave. Henry and I shared a Mexican Breeze, which was tequila shaken with a blend of fruit juices. Whatever tequila they used was damn good—with each sip, you caught just a whisper of it behind the fruity flavors.

Their salsas were really unique—one was a thin tomatillo-cilantro salsa, and the other was a warm chipotle salsa.

Their sopapillas were irresistible—tender and extra-pillowy, and served not with honey, but with agave nectar!

That night we had some drinks at The Quarter, an awesome New Orleans-style bar we’ve visited before. I also ordered us the third hummus platter of the trip, and this one was EASILY the greatest of them all. It came with three flavors – roasted red pepper, black bean, and original – and some warm, perfect pita. All three varieties were flawlessly delicious. As if I needed another reason to love this town...

Sunday morning, we ate our last meal at Breadwinners Bakery and Café, known as the best brunch place in Dallas. It’s hugely popular, and was already packed at 9am.

Confession: I ate egg. For the first time since our trip to Breadwinners last year. Meh, once a year ain’t bad. I had the San Antonio tacos—egg whites and black beans in corn tortillas, served with salsa and...breakfast potatoes! I have a small obsession with breakfast potatoes. It seems like I almost never get to eat them, and I kind of inordinately adore them. (I once sleep-talked to a fellow breakfast-tater-loving ex of mine, asking him "Would you choose me over breakfast potatoes?" Apparently, I even dream about them.) Anyway, this massive breakfast was scrumptious, and I was full less than halfway through it.

Brian had a classic Belgian waffle with strawberries. On the left there is the plate of bread and muffins they give you at the table.

Henry ordered what I had last year, the San Antonio scramble. It’s basically the same as my tacos, just sans tortilla.

I saved the most impressive for last. Tyler ate a bananas foster Belgian waffle. Oh my GAWD, what a masterpiece. The topping was an unbelievable caramel-icious brown-sugar-and-banana compote of sorts. Yes, I got to try a bite. Yes, it was every bit as swoon-worthy as it looks.

On the way out, I stopped to ogle the bakery counter. Cakes, pies, tarts, cheesecakes...

...cupcakes, muffins, scones, cookies, bars, breads, rolls...

...caramel pecan sticky buns as big as your face...

It was hopeless to resist. Brian and I bought one of the sticky buns, and munched on it little by little on the ride home. It was a perfect ending to a gluttonous food- and fun-filled weekend in one of my favorite cities ever.

Remember! Catch up on past Dallas deliciousness in last year’s entry.

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