A Taste of NYC: ABC Kitchen

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Wow Jean-Georges, you’ve done it again. One of my favorite restaurants in NYC, ABC Cocina, has now been matched by ABC Kitchen. The Kitchen features the same fresh, top-notch ingredients, with a completely different menu. While Cocina has a small-plates/tapas-style menu with Latin flair, the Kitchen showcases a more traditional American-style dish using seasonal ingredients, all with their own twist.

I’m kind of a sucker for any “Farm-to-Table” restaurant that builds relationships with local producers. The first page of ABC Kitchen’s menu details all of the farms that the restaurant works with, which I find magnificent to learn where your food is actually coming from. Such restaurants strive to support the local ecosystems and small-time farmers in the region, which is very important in our globalized world in terms of both eating fresher ingredients and reducing overall carbon footprint.

Despite its sustainable, eco-friendly nature, ABC Kitchen is super trendy. The bar was poppin’ at 9pm on a Monday night, and the cocktail menu is fantastic albeit pricey. It also happens to be a hot celebrity-spotting site. Does anyone watch “The Big Bang Theory?” I don’t, but I recognized one of the main characters at the table next to us. After a quick IMDB search, turns out his name is Sheldon on the show.

ABC 1Ok shall we talk about the food? I took my Dad here while he was in town for business, and we started off sharing two appetizers; the crab toast and the roast carrot & avocado salad.  The hearty chunks of crab mixed with lemon aioli on a hearty slice of country bread was incredible. I also hear great things about their roasted kabocha squash toast, which I will be sure to try next time. As for the salad, I’m not sure what kind of marinade they used on the carrots, but my Dad and I both agreed they were some of the best we’ve ever had. Mixed with my favorite food in the entire world, avocado, I was in heaven with this salad. I went on to order the black bass as a main, and convinced my Dad to order ABC Kitchen’s signature fried chicken so I could have a bite. The bass was perfectly silky, light and flavorful, atop a wonderful cooked spinach mixture. The bite of the fried chicken I had was even more incredible, so moist and crispy, unlike any I’ve had.

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ABC Kitchen $$$$

35 E 18th St, New York, NY 10003

What to Order:

Drinks: Big Apple, Concord Grape Mimosa

Food: Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad, Crab Toast, Kabocha Squash Toast, Black Sea Bass, Fried Chicken, Broccoli with Cheddar Cheese Sauce, Popcorn Crunch Sundae

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Homemade peanut butter

IMG_0084Peanut butter has been a staple in my diet as long as I can remember. Do you have certain foods that trigger memories? For me peanut butter never ceases to remind me of summer camp. My friend Jennie was perhaps even more obsessed with peanut butter than I was; she was deprived for most of the year living in Dubai and France where peanut butter isn’t really “a thing.” Summer in California was therefore the time to stock-up. One summer we stayed for several “sessions” at camp, and the night between sessions all of the staff had off, so we were pretty much left unsupervised. Jennie and I would sneak into the kitchen and steal a big jar of peanut butter, and host peanut butter parties amongst the redwoods. Oh the life.

Flash forward almost ten years (wow, are we really that old?), and Jennie is a nut butter aficionado. The last time I saw her I think she brought me a lemon-lavender cashew butter, and it was spectacular. In the past couple of years I’ve started making my own nut butters as well (although not usually as fancy as Jennie’s concoctions), and I always have a fresh jar of homemade peanut butter in the fridge. With a good food processor, nut butters are super easy to make, and infinitely healthier than store-bought which add tons of sugar and oils. There’s really no reason not to make your own once you learn how easy it is.

Despite being great on a piece of toast, peanut butter is a great post-workout protein boost. I eat it with bananas or throw a spoonful into a green smoothie. It’s also a great addition to an acai bowl, or great for baking. Whatever you use it for, I promise you’ll be hooked on homemade after the first batch.

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Homemade Peanut Butter

2 Cups Shelled Peanuts, unsalted

2 Tbsp Honey

A Pinch of Salt

Optional: 1-2 Tsp Peanut Oil

Directions:

Place peanuts in a food processor and blend until smooth. Note that this may take up to 5-7 whole minutes. Add honey and salt into the food processor until combined. Add the optional peanut oil for a smoother, silkier butter.

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Easy Cinnamon Yogurt Scones

IMG_0081Greetings from frigid New York City. Last week I was in LA enjoying refreshing acai bowls in the 85 degree sunshine, and now it’s back to hibernating inside. (At least I have an excuse for tea and scones :/) Living in NYC for the past 7 months has been an absolute whirlwind. I haven’t felt bored, lonely or even nostalgic for my former life for even a second. Yet, going on a last-minute week-long trip to LA for work was unexpectedly difficult. I saw West LA from  a visitor’s perspective for the first time, and I felt the essence of a magical vacation land that doesn’t exist in real life. Granted, I happened to go during an anomaly of a week where temperatures reached the high-80’s, and I think I forgot that it’s not always like this in February. I had forgotten what it feels like to wake up to shining sun (NYC is overcast every day in winter, it seems), and how happy something as simple as waking up to bright day light can make me feel. I went on a short run outside one day and can barely describe how euphoric it felt to run amongst palm trees and feel the sun on my back. I felt pure joy, and kept thinking, “this used to be my life?”. I guess it’s just one of those things where the grass is always greener on the other side. Now that I’ve been back in NYC for two days, my mindset is Big Apple all-the-way.

Luckily I had the day off work for Presidents’ Day, giving myself another day to ease back into NYC winter. Because it was so cold, I treated myself to a cozy day indoors watching movies, catching up on work, and getting my life back together after being gone for a week for work. Sometimes we just need a lazy day to re-boot.

I’m trying to lay-low on the carbs these days, but winter calls for comfort food. Warm whole-wheat scones just sounded like the best addition to my holiday indoors. I really hope we don’t have too many more of these days, winter is starting to get rough for this California girl, especially when I just experienced what I’m missing.

I stumbled upon this recipe and was astonished how little butter (and sugar) these scones require compared to others I’ve made. The greek yogurt keeps them very light and fluffy, and low-cal despite their hearty, flaky taste. They’re also loaded with cinnamon, my favorite. The best thing about these scones is that they took me less than 30 minutes to prepare and bake, so they’re perfect for a quick weekend breakfast.

Bon Appétit!

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Easy Cinnamon Yogurt Scones (Recipe adapted from This Life Abundant)

2 Cups Whole Wheat Pastry Flour

1 Tbsp Baking Powder

3 Tbsp Sugar

1 1/2 Tsp Cinnamon

A Pinch of Salt

5 Tbsp Butter, unsalted and cold

1/2 Cup Nonfat Greek Yogurt

1/2 Cup + 2 Tbsp Milk of choice

Topping:

1 1/2 Tbsp Sugar

1/2 Tsp Cinnamon

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 425 Deg F. In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, sugar, cinnamon and salt. Cut butter into tiny pieces with a sharp knife. Press butter into flour mixture with a fork, or use your hands until combined. Place bowl in the fridge or freezer momentarily. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the milk and yogurt. Slowly combine the milk/yogurt mixture into the dry ingredient mixture using a spatula until no dry mixture remains. Knead dough into a ball.

Place ball on a lightly floured surface, and press into a flat round, about 1- 1 1/2 inches thick. With a sharp knife, cut the round into 8 pieces. Place the 8 slices onto a baking tray. Mix together the sugar and cinnamon for the topping, and sprinkle onto each slice. Bake for 13-15 minutes.

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Avocado Hummus

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If you guys didn’t know, last Sunday was the Super Bowl. (I may have called it “Super Bowl Saturday” in a conversation … oops). And, as you all know, the most important thing about the Super Bowl is the food.

This year, my friend Ana and her boyfriend Jon hosted a bomb.com Super Bowl viewing party. And, being the hosts they are, they provided us with a feast complete with cold Coronas, the best pulled pork sandwiches ever and the chewiest peanut butter cookies for dessert. Each of us contributed a food item to the list (including these cute football-themed deviled eggs), so needless to say, I left Ana’s place feeling pretty stuffed.

I’ve seen a few avocado hummus recipes floating across the web, so I decided to test my hand at making some. And though the hummus turned out pretty nicely, I do have a few notes for anyone who cares to try and make some.

  • This is a hummus, not a guacamole. Therefore it will taste more like hummus with a hint of avocado flavoring than your traditional chips and guac.
  • For smoother hummus, you will want to de-shell the garbanzo beans. (De-shelling the beans isn’t required, though it will make your hummus less chunky). To do this, place the garbanzo bean between your thumb and forefinger and roll gently. After the first five or so, I found my rhythm and de-shelled the rest in about 15 minutes.
  • I wanted my hummus to be healthier than the average store-bought hummus, so I added less olive oil than recommended. You can always drizzle more oil, though when I asked Marta to taste test, she approved. And, as you guys know, when something is Marta-approved, I don’t mess with it anymore.

Cheers!

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Avocado Hummus

1 Can of Organic Garbanzo Beans, de-shelled

2 Ripe Avocados

1 Tbsp. of Tahini

~½ Cup of Olive Oil

1 ½ Limes, juiced

A Handful of Cilantro

Directions:

Place all the ingredients minus the olive oil in a food processor and blend until combined. Slowly add the olive oil a quarter cup at a time and blend until smooth consistency is reached. Garnish with cilantro and serve.

Makes approximately 3 cups.

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A Taste of LA: Gracias Madre

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Guatemalan-style tamale with black beans

The other weekend, Marta and I decided to try out a new restaurant: Gracias Madre. A few months ago, one of our Lyft drivers recommended it to us, saying that it was some of the best vegan options she’s tried in Los Angeles. And though we are both omnivores (I cannot say no to a steak or Korean BBQ and Marta’s protein of choice is fried chicken), we decided to check the place out.

Gracias Madre is a super busy restaurant located in the heart of West Hollywood, so making a reservation in advance is recommended. Headed by Executive Chef Chandra Gilbert, this restaurant boasts of various Mexican food favorites — all of which are organic, locally grown and farm fresh. And, if fresh ingredients was not reason enough to check this place out, you should definitely come here only to be wowed by the quality of their cheese and dairy substitutions. Really, the totopos con chile with the cashew crema (the vegan version of is queso fresco) is to die for. In fact, I’m pretty sure Marta and I stopped talking for a few minutes to enjoy our appetizer in silence.

And while I thoroughly enjoyed my entree (I ordered one of my childhood favorites: the flautas de camote), I’m going to skip right over to the dessert, which was so darn good! Marta and I ordered the fudge brownie, topped with coconut bacon and an orange cashew whipped cream. How they manage to make the whip so creamy without any dairy still amazes me –a definite must-try.

I really recommend that if you ever have the chance, you must try out this restaurant. Even if you aren’t vegetarian or vegan, Gracias Madre has something on the menu that caters to everyone — even if you just go for appetizers and drinks.

Cheers!

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Totopos con chile

Gracias Madre  $$

8905 Melrose Ave. West Hollywood, CA 90069

What to Order: The totopos con chile makes a great appetizer/something to munch on while you sip your cocktails. The tamale and flautas were tasty, but the fudge brownie topped with the orange cashew whip takes the cake (…or in this case, the brownie??)

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Fudge brownie

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Flautas de camote

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Slow Cooker French Onion Soup

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Though it’s not a surprise to anyone who knows me, I work a lot. No really; it’s not uncommon for me to work 10 or 12 hours a day, begrudgingly followed by a 45 minute run at the gym and topped off with some quality cuddle time with the kitties while I binge watch Friends on Netflix. And, though I love my job, it doesn’t leave me with much time to cook on the weeknights.

That’s where my trusty slow cooker comes into play.

Though I’ve only had this slow cooker for about a month (my brother gifted it to me for Christmas), it’s quickly become one of my favorite kitchen tools. It makes cooking so darn easy! Before work, all I do is quickly throw together some veggies, a protein and broth, turn the setting on low, and voila, 7-8 hours later I have a meal. And, to make it even better, my mom bought me a recipe book with over 400 recipes dedicated to slow cooking. My friends, I will never go hungry.

Side note: what’s your favorite slow cooker recipe? Though I have a book with 400 of them, I’m always looking for more. ;)

This French onion soup recipe is perfect for those cold, grey winter days when you want something warm to fill your belly … though we rarely have that weather in Southern California. Just remember, the croutes make the soup so don’t skimp on some good cheese and artisan bread! Otherwise, you’ll be left with only onions and broth.

Cheers!

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Slow Cooker French Onion Soup (adapted slightly from Best-Ever Slow Cooking)

3 Tbsp of Butter

1 Tsp of Olive Oil

2 1/2 Lbs of Onions (approximately 4), peeled and sliced

1 Tsp of Sugar

1 Tbsp of Flour

1 Tbsp of White Wine Vinegar

2 Tbsp of Brandy

1/2 Cup of Unoaked Chardonnay (though any dry white wine will suffice)

4 Cups of Chicken Stock

2 Tsp of Fresh Thyme, plus more for garnish

Salt and Pepper

Croutes

4 Slices of Artisan bread

1 Garlic Clove

Dijon Mustard

Gruyere Cheese

Directions:

Turn on slow cooker and add the butter and olive oil until butter completely melts (approximately 15 minutes). Add the onions to the slow cooker and toss slightly to ensure all the onions are covered in the butter mixture. Cover with the lid and a dish towel (to prevent escaping heat) and cook on high for at least two hours, stirring occasionally to ensure that the onions remain fully coated by the butter mixture.

Add sugar and stir until fully incorporated. Cover again with the lid and the dish towel and cook for four more hours, stirring occasionally. The onions should appear to be a deep golden brown at the end of the four hours.

Add the flour to the onions and stir. Next add the white wine vinegar and sherry slowly into the onion mixture. Add the rest of the ingredients (wine, chicken stock, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste), mix and cook on high for another 2 hours.

For the croutes, I used a small loaf of artisan bread I bought at Trader Joe’s. Cut the garlic in half and spread across the surface of each piece of bread. Spread with mustard and top with a generous slice of Gruyere cheese. Then, place under the broiler on high for 2-3 minutes or until the cheese starts to bubble and the bread starts to brown.

Pour the onion soup into bowls and top with the croutes. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

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Cranberry Vanilla Granola

 Granola 4 Greetings from snowy New York! I’m currently caught in my first real blizzard, and instead of running around the city grabbing supplies and food like other New Yorkers, I’m sitting calmly by my large window mesmerized by the snow falling down. I’m not sure what the normal protocols are for this kind of weather, but I’m certainly not doing what I am supposed to. I did, however, just throw a batch of my favorite granola in the oven to have something to munch on while I watch the snow. And granola will be the perfect snack if we lose power, right??

My roommates are well-aware of my insane granola addiction. I’ve pretty much been making a batch weekly, trying various combinations and eating it any time of day, including occasionally for dinner when I’m being extremely lazy. I think this recipe remains my favorite, with its strong vanilla and cinnamon flavors. It’s not overbearingly sweet, but just enough to get you hooked. To be completely honest I usually make it with dried cherries instead of cranberries, but given the weather I’m not about to venture outside just for dried cherries! Cranberries will have to do since that’s what I had in my pantry :).

Stay warm everyone on the East Coast, and good luck weathering the storm!

Bon Appétit!

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Cranberry Vanilla Granola

2 Heaping cups oats

1/2 Cup Sliced Almonds

1/2 Tsp Cinnamon

1/2 Tbsp Vanilla Extract

3 Tbsp Canola Oil

1/4 Cup Pure Maple Syrup

Pinch of salt

1/3 Cup Dried Cranberries

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees F. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl except for the cranberries or other dried fruit. Place evenly on a baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes, stirring granola every 15 minutes.

Granola 6 Granola 7 Granola3Granola can also make a fantastic gift in a mason jar! I used this trick frequently around the holidays. Granola 1

 

Avocado Toast with Poached Eggs

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Avocado toast is hands-down my new favorite breakfast food. I’ve seen it popping up on more and more brunch menus in New York, which makes me really happy now that I can get it while eating out and not just homemade. But I really think my homemade recipe beats most restaurants. I add a lot of fresh lemon and pepper flakes to make it tangy and spicy, just the way I like it. My other signature feature is adding fresh avocado slices on top of the smash mixture- you can never have enough avocado, right?

While I was home in California for Christmas break I stopped by my local market one morning and picked up a fresh loaf of whole grain fitness bread, micro greens and some ripe avocados. I went out to the backyard and picked a fresh lemon to mix into the avocado smash. I made avocado toast with poached eggs for my whole family, and they are it up. I love that this meal makes a pretty healthy breakfast but also leaves you feeling full and satisfied.

Bon Appétit!

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 Avocado Toast with Poached Eggs

2 Slices Whole Grain Bread (I used a fitness loaf)

2 Eggs

1 Tsp White Vinegar

1 Handful Micro greens

2 Ripe Avocados

1/2 Tsp Olive Oil

1 Tsp Fresh Lemon Juice

Pinch of Salt

1/2 Tsp Pepper Flakes

Directions:

Avocado Smash: Place 1 1/2 avocados into a bowl. Add the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper flakes into the bowl. Mash lightly, making sure to leave large chunks in the mixture.

Poached Eggs: Boil a small pot of water and add 1 Tsp white vinegar. Crack an egg into a small bowl. Create a swirling motion in the pot of water, and slowly dip the small bowl with the egg into the boiling water, letting it slip into the water egg white first. Cook for 3 minutes and remove the egg with a strainer spoon.

Assembly: Place half a handful of micro greens onto each slice of bread. Smash half the avocado mixture onto the toast. Slice the remaining half avocado, and place the slices on top of the mash. Slowly place a poached egg onto each toast.

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Baked Oatmeal

bakedoatmeal6Oatmeal is my perfect five-minute breakfast. Recently, work has picked up, meaning more morning meetings and the occasional late night. And if you are like me (read: I like my zzz’s), this instant breakfast grain is a godsend when i’m rushing out the door in the mornings. And what’s better is that I don’t think I’ll ever tire of oatmeal since it’s so versatile in terms of flavor. If I don’t feel like oatmeals with bananas and drizzled in honey, I just switch it up with some seasonal berries or cinnamon, and so on. Needless to say, I don’t think oatmeal will make it’s way out of my breakfast rotation any time soon.

This recipe takes all the goodness of your five-minute breakfast and makes it even shorter and tastier. Packaged in a bake-ahead container, this recipe is more of a “guideline.” You can really add whatever fruits and flavors you wish. I found these beautiful blackberries and blueberries at the local market, so I decided to bake a those into my oatmeal. And boy, let me tell you … delicious.

Cheers!

bakedoatmeal4Baked Oatmeal (adapted from Epicurious)

2 Cups of Oatmeal

1/3 Cup of Sugar (optional)

1 Tsp. of Baking Powder

1 1/2 Tsp of Cinnamon

1/2 Tsp. of Salt

2 Cups of Almond Milk

1 Egg

2 Tsp. of Vanilla

2 Ripe Bananas

1 6Oz Box of Blueberries

1 6Oz Box of Blackberries

Directions:

In a bowl, combine all the dry ingredients (oatmeal, sugar if desired, baking powder, cinnamon and salt) and set aside. In another bowl, whisk egg until fully beaten. Add almond milk and vanilla and set aside.

Grease the bottom and sides of an 8 inch pan. Cover the bottom with slices of banana. Layer half of the blueberries and blackberries on top. Then, carefully cover the bananas and berries with the dry oatmeal mixture, covering fully. Slowly drizzle the ingredients from the liquid bowl over the oatmeal mixture, ensuring that the mixture seeps through all the fruit layers. Top with remaining berries. Bake at 375 degrees for 25-45 minutes or until the top begins to brown.

Makes 5-6 servings.
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A Taste of SF: Michael Mina

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Slow Cooked Pork Tortelloni

I’m a huge Michael Mina fan, and over this past Thanksgiving break I finally had the chance to try his signature restaurant in San Francisco named after himself, Michael Mina. My dad is a huge supporter of an organization in the SF Bay Area called Good Tidings, which predominately builds sports facilities for under privileged kids in the Bay Area. He purchased an auction item of a tasting menu donated by Michael Mina, and luckily waited until we were all home to enjoy it together. Unfortunately Michael Mina was not there in-person, but he graciously left signed menus for us to take home!

One of the first things I’ll point out that was really unique to this restaurant was the “make-your-own-drink” set-up. They had signature cocktails available, but also had a feature where you could explain to the waiter what kinds of alcohols and flavors you like, and they would come up with a new concoction. I’ve been really into moscow mules, so I asked for something similar to a mule but also a little fruity. My “fruity mule” was outrageously delicious.

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Another highlight was definitely the crusty bread with honey butter. We really couldn’t get enough, it was so good. The tasting menu the night we went had so many good options that I had a really hard time choosing. We had a group of six, so we were able to spread out our menu choices and have a taste of everything. The ahi tuna tartare turned out to be my favorite appetizer, one of the best I’ve ever had. The Nantucket bay scallops with creamy leek risotto was equally amazing. The only mistake I made was ordering the risotto as a main dish, because it ended up being risotto-overload!

The desserts were incredible, and the pastry chef even brought out an additional little tray of treats including homemade passion fruit caramels and pumpkin macaroons. Michael Mina 2

Michael Mina  $$$$

252 California St. San Francisco, CA 94111

What to Order: The menu is a rotating $95 tasting menu, but the Ahi Tuna Tartare is a signature that is a must-have if on the menu! Also make sure to make your own drink.

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Ahi Tuna Tartare

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Nantucket Bay Scallops

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Black Angus Ribeye

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Risotto

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Ocean Trout

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