Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sante La Brea

I'm back from the holiday vacation and ready to get myself all caught up! Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. Sadly, I will most likely not be able to catch up in full (still have 8 posts to go in order to complete VeganMoFo!), but I'm going to try my darndest. I have a lot of great things from the past few weeks to share with you, so get ready! First up is a little recap of a lunch I enjoyed last week at Sante La Brea.

I discovered Sante La Brea last year after they'd had their Gordon Ramsay reality-show makeover. While I still haven't seen the episode, I understand he gave the place quite a facelift, and helped them to create a new menu. What impresses me most about this place is how many vegan options they offer. Almost anything on the menu can be made vegan, and they have an entirely vegan dessert menu. Yum! I enjoy stopping in here for lunch when I feel like a treat. Also, I feel like it's a little hidden treasure because it's almost never full. You can always get a table, and can make it in and out within an hour for the most part.

Pizza Rustica with Melted Cashew Cheez

Last week, I went in for lunch and ordered the Pizza Rustica with Melted Cashew Cheez. It took a little longer than I'd hoped for them to make it, but once it arrived I was not disappointed. It was packed with toppings and really flavorful. I loved all the basil, olives, and tomato, too. The cashew cheez was good, but not the best I've had; it could have used a little more flavor. All in all, a delicious and filling lunch!

Close-Up: Check out all that Basil!
Next time you're in the area and are looking for something a little different, definitely stop by Sante. I'm certainly planning to visit again soon.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Cupcakes Upon Cupcakes!

Over the weekend, the fiancé and I attended a wonderful family party to celebrate his grandparents' 56th wedding anniversary and a housewarming for his cousins. To help celebrate, we decided to bring along some cupcakes. I made two dozen, as there would be a pretty big group. For the first dozen, I made the Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting, as they've been so popular lately (plus, they're seasonally appropriate). For the second dozen I wanted to try something new. I had been thinking about making a cookies n' creme cupcake for a long time, and thought this would be a great opportunity. Then of course, I realized that there's a recipe for the same thing in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World. So much for originality. I went for it anyway, and stole Isa and Terry's idea of cutting an Oreo in half as a garnish for the top. They turned out so yummy!

The box of all 24 cupcakes
Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting and a candied pecan

Cookies N' Creme Cupcakes with crushed cookies in the batter & frosting

I got a few new oversized pastry tips at Surfas Kitchen Supply, and I'm really happy with how they worked out. It took me a little while to get the hang of it (you can see a few cuppies that are a little lopsided), but once I did I started getting great results. Also, I'm glad I made two dozen, because almost all of them were eaten! So all in all, grand cupcake success!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Vegan Samplings from the Farmers Market

On Friday, I posted some photos from my visit to Monsieur Marcel's in the Farmers Market here in Los Angeles. Now for the best stuff from the trip: the food! Martina has long dreamt of attacking the Farmers Market from top to bottom, ordering all her favorites in one day. In honor of her birthday, we went for it. We had a ball, and I wound up absolutely stuffed because there are so many vegan offerings.

For those who have never been, the Farmers Market (no apostrophe!) on Third and Fairfax is a tourist's must-see when visiting Los Angeles. The market was established in July 1934, when a group of farmers were invited to sell their produce out of the backs of their trucks at Gilmore Island on the corner of 3rd and Fairfax. The market gained popularity quickly, and soon permanent stalls were built. The market has been operational since, now featuring not only produce but a wide variety of restaurants and shops. It's easy to spend a whole day here sampling all the delicious food!

The famous Farmers Market clock tower
The crowd at the Farmers Market

We started at Lotería Grill, for a little Mexican appetizer of guacamole and chips. I love to watch the staff working at this place, because everything is made fresh, including the tortillas and chips. The chips were still piping hot when we got them, and the guacamole was absolutely delicious. So good. 

The Lotería Staff, hard at work

Lotería's Guacamole

The amazing fresh tortilla chips

Fresh tortillas being made

Our next stop was one of my very favorites, Moishe's Restaurant. They make the best Mediterranean food! We ordered my three favorites: Baba Ghanouj (an eggplant dip), Taboulleh (a salad with parsley, lemon, tomato, and bulghur), and Dolmas (grape leaves stuffed with rice, tomato, and spices).

The spread at Moishe's

Baba Ghanouj. Oh so creamy and delicious.

Taboulleh. Heaven on a plate.

Delicious Dolmas!

 The final stop was a favorite of Martina's: Sushi a Go Go. The restaurant inhabits the smallest stall in the market, but makes the freshest, most delicious sushi. Their veggie roll is delicious; stuffed with avocado, asparagus, and cucumber. The staff consists of two sushi chefs and a woman working the cash register and taking orders. They were all so sweet, and fun to talk to. The woman at the register gave Martina a free green tea drink for her birthday!

Sushi Chefs at work

Martina with her birthday present

My veggie roll with avocado, asparagus, and cucumber.

Despite our lofty goals of eating our way through the Farmers Market, our full tummies only allowed us to make a dent. I'm sure there are tons of other vegan options there to be had, but one can only eat so much in one afternoon. Have you ever been to the Farmers Market? What's your favorite treat there?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Monsieur Marcel Gourmet Market

Recently I took a long, leisurely visit to the very famous Farmer's Market on Third and Fairfax here in Los Angeles with my dear friend, Martina. We spent an afternoon there, and ate until we could eat no more (more on that later). We also visited Monsieur Marcel, a beautiful little gourmet food shop tucked in to the southeast corner of the market. While the shop features many non-vegan items, they also carry a treasure trove of vegan delights! This is a must-visit for anyone who is passionate about cooking.

The shelves are stocked with beautiful bottles, tins, and packages, and everything is just so pretty! I couldn't help but take a bunch of photos. Here are some of my favorites.

The view upon entering Monsieur Marcel. Check out those barrels of olives!

The aisles are stocked with beautiful items. I want that clay pot. 

They have a huge selection of tea, all beautifully packaged.

Beautiful vintage-style seasoning tins.

These marinated leeks look scrumptious! 

This Missoni-styled Pellegrino bottle made me smile.

This beautiful pasta was colored using all natural ingredients, like fruits and veggies.
I was impressed that such vibrant colors could be produced naturally!

There were so many beautiful shapes and colors available.

The wine "cellar," with a wide selection of domestic and foreign wines.
This one made me laugh. Really? Gaga?

Aren't these chocolate wrappers lovely? I want to wallpaper my house in these patterns.

Surprise! They're vegan too. What a nice ingredient list.

This was a really special treat that I haven't had since living back East.

They're made of 100% maple syrup! Can't argue with that. 

We wound up purchasing a Mast Brothers chocolate bar (how could we pass up artisan chocolate inside such a gorgeous package?), the maple candy, and a bottle of truffle oil that I didn't get a photo of. We shared the chocolate later that day, and it was delicious. We had the sea salt and almond flavor, and it was just decadent. I brought the maple candy to my future mother-in-law who loved it. I had a piece, too, and it was so good. Just like I remember it! And of course, the truffle oil is amazing. All in all, a fruitful trip!

If you haven't visited Monsieur Marcel, I highly recommend a visit, even if you just go to drool over the merchandise. Se magnifíc! 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mother's Market

Almost every time fiancé and I visit our family in Orange County, we make a stop at Mother's Market on the way back. Mother's is a wonderful and homey-feeling (as the name suggests) group of grocery stores, offering fresh organic and natural foods. There are currently six Mother's stores and one on the way, and they're only located within Orange County. Oh, what I would give to have a Mother's in L.A.! Shopping here is such a treat, because the atmosphere is so welcoming, the staff is knowledgeable and helpful, and you never feel like you're in a big-box store. The prices and selection can't be beat, either; they have just about everything, and you don't have to pay an arm and a leg for it.

To better illustrate how lovely Mother's is, I gathered my favorite photos from their website. I tried to take some of my own with the iPhone, but it didn't go so well. So, as they're marked, all photos are courtesy of Mother's Market.

Mother's Market Irvine. Photo: Mother's Market

One of my favorite things about Mother's is all the wonderful produce. It's always so fresh and beautiful, and it's almost always organic. Check out these great pictures from Mother's website! 

Gorgeous Veggies! Photo: Mother's Market

Produce Aisle in Huntington Beach. Photo: Mother's Market

The health and beauty supply sections are so much fun to visit. They carry all sorts of pretty and natural products that I'm always so tempted to buy, as well as almost any vitamin or supplement that you can imagine. They have everything!

Huge Beauty Section! Photo: Mother's Market

My absolute tippy-top favorite part about Mother's, though, would have to be the juice bar and the restaurant. So much yum. The juice bar has tons of choices, and everything tastes amazing. Also, they list all the organic choices for you on a daily basis, so you can make an informed decision on what you want in your juice. The restaurant has a wide selection of dishes, with bunches of very well marked vegan options. You can't argue with that! I love their sandwiches, as well as the tofu piccata (obviously a favorite of mine). 

The Dining Area in Irvine. Photo: Mother's Market
A Delicious Sandwich! Photo: Mother's Market

We usually visit the Irvine location, but they're all wonderful. This weekend we took a trip to the Costa Mesa store, and were pleased as punch! The juice bar was great, the restaurant was huge, and there was a beautiful salad bar. So much fun. I can't wait to go back! 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Avanti Cafe in Costa Mesa

Over the weekend, fiancé and I took a mini-trip to Orange County. While we were there, we decided to check out a vegetarian restaurant called Avanti Cafe. I'm so glad we did! Avanti offers tons of vegan options that are absolutely delicious. As explained on their website, "Avanti Cafe features flavorfully dynamic food - handcrafted and lovingly prepared from fresh, local and mostly organic produce and food products." Avanti Cafe was founded in 2004 by chefs Tanya Fuqua and Mark Cleveland. They offer lunch and dinner, as well as weekend brunch.

Chefs Fuqua & Cleveland, photo: Avanti Cafe

Fiancé and I went there for dinner, and the tiny cafe was almost full with diners. The atmosphere was charming, with dim lights and candles on each table. I decided to start off with the Avanti Margarita Maxima, which had a perfect balance of salty and sweet flavors. The citrus flavors were fresh and tart, and the glass was rimmed with a nice mixture of salt and seeds. Apologies for the less-than-stellar pictures, we didn't bring the camera with us; it was iPhone pics or bust.

Avanti Margarita Maxima, $6.25

The fiancé ordered the Bakin' BBQ sandwich, which featured avocado, tempeh "bakin'," and tomato confit, with a side of some ridiculously delicious fries. He added the Avanti nut cheez, as well, and ordered the tempeh on the side. The sauce on the sandwich was somewhat sweet, and tasted great with the baby greens and avocado. It was served on two thick slices of a really yummy 10+ grain bread that was lightly toasted. The flavors were so good together, and like nothing I'd ever tasted. It was so good.

Bakin' BBQ Sandwich, with tempeh on the side, $9

I decided to go with one of the tempting pizza options. Almost all of them came with the option to order them vegan with the nut cheez, so it was really hard to choose. I wound up picking the Shiitake Artichoke Pesto pizza with garnet yams, garlic & shallot greens, olives, nuts, and nut cheez. While yams on a pizza may sound a little odd, this combination was absolutely heavenly. The pesto was salty and flavorful, the yams were soft and sweet, the olives added a briny punch of flavor, and the nuts added crunch. Also, the nut cheez was absolutely delightful, and it paired perfectly with the pesto. Seriously, yum. It was huge, to boot, and I left completely stuffed.

Shiitake Artichoke Pesto pizza, $10

The Avanti website also features a bunch of their recipes, as well as some products for sale. So much fun! Next time you're in Newport Beach or Costa Mesa, be sure to stop by and enjoy some of their delicious offerings. I know we'll be stopping by again!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Tofu Piccata With Crispy Shiitake Mushrooms

Happy Friday! I fell a little bit behind this week on Vegan MoFo, but I've got a ton of new photos and and posts ready to go, so catching up won't be too hard. Today, I'm bringing you a recipe for my favorite dish of all, piccata. I make piccata quite often, and I make it differently almost every time! It's great over pasta, polenta, quinoa, or greens. Also, you can use almost any protein you can think of including tofu, tempeh, seitan, Gardein, or chickpeas. It's fun to experiment with and it always turns out to be super yummy.

Tofu Piccata with Crispy Shiitake Mushrooms

This version is a dressed-up, fancier version of a classic tofu piccata that would be great to serve to someone you're looking to impress. The crispy shiitake mushrooms are easy to make, but look really impressive. The tofu is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. I like to serve it on a bed of arugula which adds a nice bite, and with pasta to soak up the delicious sauce.


For the Tofu:
1 block extra firm tofu, sliced and pressed
Ener-G Egg Replacer for two eggs, or 1/2 cup water
1/2 cup flour
2 tbsp olive oil

For the Mushrooms:
3 cups shiitake mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp Earth Balance margarine
1 tbsp dry white wine
1 tbsp lemon juice
Pinch salt

For the Sauce:
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 cup lemon juice
2 tsp capers
1 tbsp Earth Balance margarine
1 tbsp flour

Several cups pasta, cooked
2-3 cups arugula
3 tbsp chopped parsley


Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. In a heavy-bottomed skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.

Cooking the Tofu

Whisk together the egg replacer (if using) in a small bowl. Spread the flour out onto a medium or small sized plate. Once the oil has heated, dip a piece of tofu in the egg replacer mix, then into the flour and coat completely and as evenly as possible. Place the slice of tofu into the pan. Repeat until all slices are coated and cooking. You will probably have to do this in two batches, depending on the size of your skillet. Flip the slices after 2-3 minutes, or until golden brown. Repeat on the other side. When finished, evacuate the slices into an oven-safe dish and place into the warm oven. This way, your tofu will stay hot and crispy while you finish the recipe.

To start the sauce, de-glaze the tofu skillet with the white wine, using a spatula to get all the bits off the bottom. Reduce the heat to low, and add the vegetable broth. Allow it to simmer slowly while you work on the mushrooms.

The Mushrooms, Getting Crispy

In a second skillet, heat the two tablespoons Earth Balance over medium heat until it has completely melted. Add the mushrooms, and toss them with a spatula to coat. Cook for 5 minutes until they have softened. Add the tablespoon of wine, the tablespoon of lemon juice and pinch of salt, and allow the mushrooms to cook until the liquid is gone, stirring occasionally. Leave them to cook even further, about another ten minutes, or until the edges are brown and crisp. Remove from heat.

While the mushrooms are cooking, complete the sauce. Turn the heat up to medium and add the salt, lemon juice and capers. Simmer for about four to five minutes or until you can see the liquid has begun to reduce. Add the Earth Balance and whisk until smooth. Sprinkle in the sifted flour and whisk until smooth again. If the sauce is still not to your desired thickness, continue to cook until it is. If it is too thick, thin with water, adding one tablespoon at a time until it is at the proper consistency.

To serve, place arugula on the plate, followed by the hot pasta. The heat from the pasta should wilt the greens, so they're nice and tender. Top with two or three tofu slices, then some sauce, and the mushroom. Sprinkle on some parsley, and you're done!

The Final Product!

So it seems a little complicated, I know, but in reality this is a recipe that will get easier with time. I actually never look at a recipe when I make it anymore, and I've never had it turn out less than awesome. After a time or two, start experimenting with your piccata. You can add more lemon, less lemon, more capers, etc. Or, cook the mushrooms in the sauce so they're soft and flavorful. Customize it and have fun, that's the important part.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Adventures in Juicing

Well, it's officially week two of Vegan MoFo 2010! I have been enjoying reading everyone's drool-worthy posts, and I just love finding so many new and wonderful vegan blogs. There are so many, and there is so much good content. If you haven't done some Vegan MoFo exploring, be sure to check out the list of blogs participating here.

I'm going to kick off week two with a new hobby that the fiancé and I have picked up: juicing. Juicing is not only fun and delicious, but it provides a great way for your body to get some much-needed nutrients. When juice is extracted from a fruit or vegetable, its healthy nutrients and enzymes remain with the juice. Excess fiber is discarded in the form of a pulp and can be used again to make broth or other soups. What makes juice so darn useful is its ability to deliver those nutrients and enzymes without that extra fiber. This way, the body can absorb as much of the healthful stuff as possible. It can be really hard to be healthy all the time, even when you're vegan, and juicing is a great way to inject some vitamins and minerals into your diet. Plus, juice tastes great!

Kale-Collard-Apple-Lemon-Carrot Juice

Fiancé and I recently invested in an Omega 8003 masticating juicer, and have been juicing almost daily since. I'm mostly addicted to the amazing flavors we've been able to produce, while fiancé is loving the huge nutritional boost it provides. It's a win-win situation. Last night, we made juice from kale, collard greens, carrots, apple, and lemon. Here are some shots of the process. 


Beginning to Juice

Kale Juice

Carrot Pulp

Getting Ready to Freeze the Pulp

Finished Product
I was very happy with how this juice turned out! It was slightly tangy from the lemon, and nice and thick from the greens. I was worried about bitterness being an issue, as I've heard that collards can be bitter, but this juice wasn't bitter at all. Yum!

We've talked about all the awesome stuff you put into smoothies, now what's your favorite juice?