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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Chocolate Hazelnut Protein Muffins

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A little over a month ago, I decided to change up my workout routine. With my work schedule and social life the way it is, I couldn’t always make it to the gym classes I liked, and I found that my regular cardio routine (read: a half-hearted two mile run/walk) was starting to not cut it anymore. So, I decided to start lifting weights. And, while I’m not sure I can say I see physical results just yet, I sure am hungry all the time!

That’s where these protein muffins come into the picture. They provide just the right amount of sweet, while still being the perfect pre-workout snack. The best part is, they are chock-full of protein.

I used the ceramic muffin pan that Marta got for me, and as you can see, was fully occupied with taking muffin photos … that is, until Sophie (my cat) crept into the picture.

Cheers!

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Chocolate Hazelnut Protein Muffins (adapted from DailyBurn)

1 1/4 Cups and 3 Tbsp. of Whole Wheat flour

1 1/2 Tbsp. of Ground Flaxseeds

2 Tsp. of Baking Powder

1/8 Tsp. of Salt

2 Eggs

2 Bananas, mashed (*note: use ripe bananas, as they will help naturally sweeten the muffins)

1/2 Cup of Nonfat, Plain Greek Yogurt

1/4 Cup of Almond Milk

1 Tbsp. of Vanilla

1/4 Cup of Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread (for homemade, click here)

Directions:

Sift together the following dry ingredients: flour, flaxseeds, baking powder and salt. Set aside. Using another bowl, mix together the eggs, banana, Greek yogurt, almond milk and vanilla. Combine the wet and dry ingredients, just until combined.

In a generously greased muffin tin, fill up cups half way. Drop in a large teaspoon-size dollop of chocolate hazelnut spread. Cover the chocolate hazelnut fully with more muffin batter. Bake for 17-22 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Eat immediately, or store in the fridge in an airtight container for two days.

Serves 6.

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Acai Bowls

Acai Bowl 3Being home for Christmas break, I couldn’t get enough of the fresh California produce. I forgot how lucky we were to have fairly good quality fruit all year round, which I don’t get to the same extent in New York. My sister and I went to downtown Palo Alto for a morning yoga class, and decided to try the new Acai Bowl joint, Bare Bowls, to top off a healthy day. Bare Bowls was fantastic and very refreshing, but man was it over-priced, as all Palo Alto spots tend to be. My sister and I decided to make our own Acai bowls the next day for breakfast!

I definitely took advantage of the fact that my parents own a Vitamix, which makes Acai bowls, or VERY thick smoothies, much easier to make. An Acai bowl is basically a smoothie so thick you have to eat it with a spoon, with acai, other fruit and typically some kind of nut butter. Acai bowls are then topped with more fresh fruit, granola, nuts, coconut shavings and any other topping of choice. We didn’t have acai berries, but used acai juice and added bananas, strawberries, blackberries and peanut butter to make the base. We topped it off with banana slices and granola for a refreshing, hearty breakfast.  Overall I was pleased with the results, and even more thrilled we were able to eat outside.

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Acai Bowls

2 Bananas

8 Strawberries

10 Blackberries

4 Tbsp Acai Juice

1 Heaping Tbsp Peanut or Almond Butter

8 Ice Cubes

Toppings: Banana slices, granola, other fruit

Directions:

Mix all ingredients in a high-powered blender until smooth. (Note: the base of the acai bowl should be very thick. Some normal blenders, including my own, will not work well with such little liquid. I was fortunate enough to use my parents’ Vitamix while I was home which worked great. Feel free to add more acai juice in order to property blend). Top with banana slices, granola and other toppings of choice.

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Cranberry Lemon Shortbread Bars

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Day 11: Cranberry Lemon Shortbread Bars

I’ve just arrived at Hailey’s house for a week of fun. Our itinerary: Sonoma wine country for Hailey’s birthday (happy birthday!), day hiking on New Year’s Eve Day and a celebratory New Year’s Eve night in San Francisco … and oh yeah, don’t forget, a vacation with us is no vacation if we don’t include tons of food. So, it’s basically guaranteed to be a blast.

I made these cookies right before my 10 hour drive up north, and I’ve got to say that my favorite thing about these cookies are how tart they are. The lemon and fresh cranberries complement each other perfectly, making for the best bite-sized on-the-road snacks. I hope you enjoy!

Cheers!

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Cranberry Lemon Shortbread Bars

4 Cups of Flour

1 Cup of Butter, cold and cut into cubes

1/2 Cup of Sugar

1/2 Cup of Lemon Juice

2/3 Cup of Fresh Cranberries, plus a handful for garnish

The Zest From 1 Lemon

Directions:

Sift together the flour and sugar until completely combined. Using a mixer on the lowest speed, gradually add the cubes of butter until the mixture starts to look like large crumbles. Sprinkle the lemon zest and juice and combine. By this time the dough should come together when you grab it in your hands. Slice the cranberries and add them to the dough.

Line a 13 X 9 inch pan with wax or parchment paper. Spread the dough out on the pan. Press the dough firmly into the pan. Using a sharp knife, begin to carefully cut the bars. *Note: the dough will be extremely crumbly in texture. You will need to press it down again after you perforate the dough to form the bars.* Garnish each bar with a cranberry by firmly pressing a cranberry in the middle of each bar. Bake at 325 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until the shortbread starts to look browned.

Makes approximately 30 bars.

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Cinnamon-Raisin Rugelach Cookies

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Day 10: Cinnamon-Raisin Rugelach

Merry Christmas everyone! I’m going to keep this post short and sweet because 1) it’s past midnight and I’m getting sleepy (chalk it up to a cookie coma), and 2) my cat Sophie is being inexplicably sweet. Seriously though, anyone that knows Sophie knows her as the cat that characteristically runs and hides under the bed for hours. So, excuse me while I take advantage of what little kitten love and attention I can get.

I actually first decided to make these cookies on recommendation from a coworker. And, boy, am  I glad I did. Not only are they super simple to make, they are really customizable. On top of it all, they look like you spent hours in the kitchen when in actual reality, you only really put in about 30 minutes of prep time.

Also, given that the original recipe calls for two sticks of butter and one packet of cream cheese (no amount at the gym could save me there), I ended up using only 3/4ths of the original butter in the recipe and half of the cream cheese.

Cheers!

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Cinnamon-Raison Rugalach Cookies (adapted from The Kitchn)

Dough:

2 Cups of Flour

1/2 Package (4 oz) of Cream Cheese, cubed

3/4 Cup of Cold Butter, cubed

1 Tsp. of Vanilla

1 egg yolk

Filling:

1/2 Cup of Sugar

2 Tbsp. of Cinnamon

1/2 Cup of Raisins, chopped

2 Tbsp. of Butter, melted

Directions:

Using your hands, cut a few tablespoons at a time of the butter and cream cheese into the flour. Once the dough starts to form rough crumbs, set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolk and the vanilla. Sprinkle this egg mixture over the flour mixture and mix using hands until the dough starts to clump together. Divide dough in two, form two balls and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Once the dough has chilled, turn one of the dough balls out onto a powdered sugar surface (do not skimp on the powdered sugar!). Roll the dough ball into a circle until about 1/8th an inch thick. Brush the dough with the melted butter, generously cover with the sugar-cinnamon mixture and sprinkle the raisins on last. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into even “pizza slices.” *Note: the recipe I followed said to create 16 even slices, but I found it easier to create 15 slices.* Roll each slice tightly into a crescent and place onto an ungreased baking sheet, crescent tail down. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

Use the same process with the other refrigerated dough ball.

Makes approximately 30 cookies.

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