Finding Sunshine on a Gray Day

It’s a chilly day in Phoenix, AZ.  Probably not by most other standards, but it is almost below 60 degrees today, windy, and I am cold! On days like this, I crave comfort–this can mean bundling up in cozy sweaters, snuggling under blankets, or of course, filling up on food that warms you from the inside out. I had been meaning to try this restaurant I’d been hearing about in Central Phoenix, Bragg’s Factory Diner, for some time now. From what I’ve read about it, I thought today might be the perfect day to finally go check it out, and I’m so glad that I did! Sometimes, it just feels great to have someone else prepare your food for you, and they really did it right today. So right, in fact, that I feel it necessary to share it with the interwebs, in hopes that you will go out and experience this wonderful place for yourself!

Bright sight, gray day.
Bright sight, gray day.

Bragg’s began as a pie factory (yum!), and was founded in 1947. Now it is a vegetarian/vegan diner, located in Phoenix’s funky art district, still serving up freshly baked pies daily. Both the inside and outside of the building are full of color (as you can see from the picture of the yarn-adorned trees), and the dining room is full of quirky photos and vintage decor that make you feel right at home.

Braggs Dining Room
Comforting, colorful dining room.
Salt Shakers
Vintage salt shakers.

When I think of a diner, I think of comfort food. Familiar dishes served up hot and fast. This diner, with a focus on using locally grown and organic products, offers these diner staples with healthy, inventive, and absolutely delicious twists. I wanted to try almost everything on the menu, from the “Bwiscuits and Gwavy” spiced up with poblano gravy, to the “Nopales Like Home”, a barbacoa “meat” sandwich made from jackfruit, topped with grilled cactus and vegan mayonnaise on a bun. Sadly, I could only choose one, but I can guarantee I will be back very, very soon to try the next on my list. And then again for the next 🙂

I eventually settled on a side of eggplant “bacon”, and for my entree, I chose the “What the Waff?!, coconut-curry waffles….because how could I not?? It was just such an intriguing combination, unheard of to me; I had to try it.

Coconut Curry Waffles
Coconut-curry waffles with melted butter and real maple syrup….Mmmmm…….

They were seriously so good! They curry flavor was perfect. They weren’t spicy, rather they were pleasantly mild, the way I think it would need to be for this dish. It was just enough to turn the waffles a beautiful color, and somehow it seemed so natural served up with butter and maple syrup. I don’t understand why, but these flavors were meant to be united, and I’m all for it. The eggplant “bacon” was pretty good too, not meant to exactly imitate as it still retained its vegetable texture, but the taste was unmistakably bacon-like, and that’s all I was looking for!

The Scrambler
Fire roasted poblano, organic corn and onion egg scramble with rosemary potatoes.

My boyfriend got “The Scrambler”, which consisted of a 3 egg (there was also a tofu option for vegans) scramble with roasted poblanos, organic corn and onion, with a side of the rosemary potatoes. Also, orange juice, which he said was notably delicious and one of the best parts of the meal. He got one pretty spicy bite, but the rest was great, especially the potatoes, which were as crispy as he hoped they would be.

Fresh Baked Pie
Fresh Baked Pie

We were both pretty full when it came to the end of our fabulous brunch, but I clearly could not leave without getting some pie to go. They had an assortment of different pies to choose from; the ones I remember off the top of my head were black cherry, blueberry-persimmon, maybe an almond-mocha cheesecake in there too? Among others….

Right before I was about to settle on the blueberry-persimmon, our server let me know that a double decker blueberry-peach pie (!!!!!!) had just come out of the oven…..double decker pie?? What does that even mean!! Obviously I had to get a slice. So I did, we paid up, and were on our way. Not before the pie-baker herself informed me that she takes pie requests. I may have to take her up on this (pear-ginger for starters?).

Although I was stuffed when I got home, in true Jessica Knight fashion, it took me all of about 20 minutes to sample a sliver of my slice (looking forward to eating the rest for dessert tonight!).

Blueberry Peach Double Decker Pie
Blueberry Peach Double Decker Pie AKA Heaven

I actually think this is one of the best pie crusts I have ever had. It was extremely light and flaky, making the double decker’s middle layer of crust very welcome. And it’s vegan? So awesome! The blueberry and peach were the perfect combination, just like a little slice of summery sunshine on this chilly, bleak day 🙂

So, if you are in the area, please go check this place out. The service is welcoming, helpful and friendly. The food is beyond yummy, will satisfy vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike, plus it supports a local and organic community. I included a picture listing some of the holiday pie choices below, in case you need any further persuasion…..Hope everyone is having a beautiful day!

Braggs Holiday Pies
Apple Rosemary Pie is at the top of my list.

Indian Spiced Green Beans (Vegan, Gluten-Free)

Something you will see as I continue to add to this blog is my love for ethnic flavors. Because of my mother’s job, our family moved around (mostly) overseas every 3 or so years. These places included Cote d’Ivoire, Chennai, Abu Dhabi and more. One of the things I am really grateful for (of course, because I am obsessed with food…) is that I was exposed to so many different cuisines. Indian food is one of my very favorites to this day. The blend of spices is truly like no other, I’m kinda salivating just thinking about it!

When it comes to cooking (and probably most other areas of my life), I am not a minimalist. I think that is one of the reasons I like Indian food so much; the complex flavors build up to the most unique, mouth-watering results. Though there is something to be said about keeping things simple and letting single ingredients shine, I often find myself adding more and more spices into whatever I am cooking until the flavors are big enough to stand up to what I’m used to. Sometimes this works out for me, sometimes I go overboard….

In this recipe, I believe the spices complement each other perfectly. You get a delicious, bursting flavor reminiscent of bold Indian dishes with only 5 ingredients in about 7 minutes, so the green beans still hold some crunch. My boyfriend went as far as saying these MIGHT be some of the best green beans he’s ever tried, so if that is any persuasion, try these out!

This recipe serves 2, as most of my recipes do since I am usually just cooking for my man and I. Double, triple, or quadruple if need be! Come to think of it, some extra time to let the flavors sink in even more would make these awesome leftovers…..

Indian Spiced Green Beans

1/2 lb Green Beans (ends trimmed off and chopped in half)

1 tsp Ground Ginger (you can use fresh ginger here too)

1 tsp Turmeric Powder

1/2 tsp Curry Powder

1 Tbsp Olive Oil or Coconut Oil

1. Heat oil in a medium-sized frying pan on a little over medium heat.

2. Add green beans, stir and allow to sit for 1 minute (you should hear some sizzling, if not, increase the heat a little bit).

3. Add in spices, and stir to coat green beans.

4. Continue to fry green beans for about 5-7 minutes, only stir occasionally so that you allow the sides to become seared. Don’t overcook the green beans, you want them to retain some crunch!

Vegetarian Caesar Dressing (Gluten-Free)

I love Caesar dressing. It’s intense and unique flavor profile is a classic, but everyone seems to have their own twist on it. Usually it is made with mayonnaise, eggs, anchovies, and parmesan cheese, but the variations are endless depending on the cook or restaurant it is made by. While the regular Caesar dressing is tasty, it alienates vegans and vegetarians because of the dairy and fish content. Although these limitations don’t apply to me, I would personally prefer an alternative that doesn’t involve smothering my greens in mayonnaise (I am pretty sure I am not alone in that!). So, I set out to create my own spin on the classic.

The thing thats sets this recipe apart for me is the replacement of the anchovies with olives. This was inspired by the vegetarian caesar dressing recipe on Dr. Weil’s site, and I think it works really well. You get the saltiness that you would from the fish in the regular dressing, and it really intensifies the flavor in an awesome way. Don’t worry, even if you don’t like olives, you will (hopefully) still like this, as they don’t overpower the sauce with too olive-y of a taste…..it just works. Try it and you’ll see!

Another little deviation from the norm is the use of lime juice instead of lemon juice. I know, nothing crazy, but although I l-o-v-e lemons, I think I love lime even more! Switch up my recipe and mold it to your personal taste, that’s the best part about homemade dressings. The following is enough for 2 or so servings, but go ahead and double or triple depending on your needs. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Vegetarian Caesar Dressing

1/3 C Greek Yogurt (you could replace this with homemade cashew cream to make this recipe vegan)

2 Tbsp Olive Oil

2 Tbsp Lime Juice

2 Tbsp Chopped and Pitted Kalamata Olives

1 or 2 Cloves Garlic (It was really garlicky with 2 which is the way I like it, definitely use only 1 if that’s not your thing)

2 tsp Vegan Worcestershire sauce

2 tsp Dijon Mustard

Black Pepper (to taste)

1. Blend all ingredients until smooth. ( I used my immersion blender)

Pour this over top of some kale or romaine, add some homemade croutons, and you’re set!

Exotic Oatmeal (Gluten Free)

Oatmeal may not have the best reputation for being an exciting breakfast, but I kind of think it should. Its comforting, hearty, versatile, and if you do it up the right way (which is super easy), incredibly delicious. This fiber-filled, cholesterol-lowering, heart-disease-preventing bowl of creamy goodness is exactly the kind of breakfast I want to start my day with. It takes less than 10 minutes to put it together, you really can’t beat that!

I switch it up pretty often when I eat oatmeal (which is also pretty often), but one of my new favorites is this mix. Its a simple recipe, and by no means revolutionary, but its yummy enough to deserve sharing. It’s a little spicy from the ginger, sweet from the bananas, honey, and a dusting of coconut palm sugar, as well as packing some added crunch (and benefits!) from the chopped almonds and chia seeds. If you don’t eat some of the ingredients or don’t have them on hand, feel free to sub them with whatever fruit, spices, and nuts you’d prefer. Tell me about some of your own oatmeal creations in the comments!

Exotic Oatmeal

Serves 2

1 C Whole Grain Oats

2 C Water

1/2 C Chopped Crystallized Ginger

1/2 C Chopped Almonds

2 Tbsp Raw Organic Honey (switch this out for another sweetener to make this recipe vegan)

2 Tbsp Chia Seeds

1 Tbsp Coconut Oil

2 Bananas (sliced)

Coconut Palm Sugar for dusting

1/2 C Almond Milk (Optional, but I like to add a little more moisture to get the oats even creamier)

1. Bring oatmeal and water to a boil.

2. Once boiling, add chia seeds and turn down the heat to low and allow to simmer until the oatmeal reaches the right consistency (about 5 minutes). Stir occasionally, scraping the sides of the pot to prevent sticking.

3. Mix in almond milk, ginger, almonds, coconut oil, and honey, and remove from heat.

4. Split the oatmeal into 2 bowls–top with bananas, sprinkle with sugar, and enjoy the easiest, most satisfying breakfast ever!