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Discovering Traditional South African Dishes

15 Dec

I love to travel. My “bucket list” has all the places/cities/countries I want to see before I kick it. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to check off much from our hit list this year, so when I was invited to attend “Celebrate the Distinctive Flavors of South Africa” at DeGustibus Cooking School I couldn’t be more excited for a taste of escape. If you’re like me, and are more familiar with South African wines than with the food, this event hosted by South Africa Tourism promised an opportunity to experience both!

DeGustibus is impressive. Photos plaster one wall with every influential chef you can imagine. I got goosebumps surrounded by all that greatness. Founded by Arlene Felman Sailhac, I feel a special connection to DeGustibus since her husband Alain, is Dean at my alma mater, French Culinary Institute. The only downside to this cooking school? Location, location, location. If you can get over it’s unfortunate location at Macy’s in Herald Square, it’s worth checking out a class or demo.

Chef Wamu prepared three traditional South African dishes. He’s cute as a button; a young, charming chef, who shared stories of growing up in Johannesburg.

Chef Wamu

I’ve been mostly vegetarian this year but tasted each dish for the experience. And am so glad I did!

We started with this delicious Chicken Bunny Stew, very similar to a thick chicken curry. A tasting portion was served over a chewy piece of bread. Wine Pairing: Raats Chenin Blanc 2009

Chef Wamu's Chicken Bunny Stew

Next came the Beef Bobotie… a layered shepherd pie style parfait, creamy and curried with a carmelized creme brulee-like surface with ground beef. Wine Pairing: Rudi Schultz Syrah 2007

Chef Wamu's Beef Bobotie at Macy's Degustibus Cooking School Event for South Africa Tourism

And my favorite, the Cinnamon Koeksister in Citrus Syrup with Coconut Shavings, Candied Seasonal Fruit and Creme Anglaise. A donut meets turkish dessert, it’s gooey, chewy and sweet but balanced with the vanilla creme anglaise. Wine Pairing: Amarula Cream Liqueur

Chef Wamu's Cinnamon Koeksisters with Creme Anglaise

What a fun, informative way to learn about South African culture and cuisine! Plus, it got me jazzed to visit some day. South Africa Tourism has tons of resources if you are looking to plan a trip. But until then, here are some South African restaurants in NYC that are worth trying.



Madiba (Brooklyn) –

Xai Xai Wine Bar

Bunny Chow


I Miss You LA

20 Oct

Hello my long lost friends!

Yes, it’s been a while since my last post. After a long stint in LA, I’m back on the east coast. Although it’s good to be home, I miss the sunshine and peace and quiet. What better way to welcome myself home than with a tribute to some of my favorite things in LA. I’ll be back soon but in the meantime, please keep these places company for me.


While the coffee wars rage on in LA just like everywhere else, Caffe Luxxe beat out all the competitors in my eyes. I’m partial to the Brentwood Country Mart location with its outdoor seating and proximity to Bar Method. 🙂

Soy Latte Caffe Luxxe

This one is random but, I couldn’t stop eating the nut mix at the bar at Intercontinental. Spicy and salty, it’s the perfect pairing with a glass of Cakebread.

I didn’t last a day without a juice from Pressed Juicery . Greens 3 rocks, as does almond milk, watermelon juice and a bunch of the detoxes. Mmmmmmm.

Greens 3, Pressed Juicery

I love Kreation Kafe for serving organic eggs all day, a tough thing to find. This egg white breakfast wrap is my favorite, full of mixed greens, grilled corn, and salsa, it’s filling and energizing right after a spin class at Revolution Fitness.

Egg white breakfast wrap at Kreation Kafe

I could eat this any day of the week: crusty grilled bread with creamy burrata and glass of Liocco at Sotto

Housemade bread with burrata

My favorite Pilates studio in LA: Winsor Pilates (I prefer the Brentwood location b/c it has ample parking!!)

“I am Thankful” for Cafe Gratitude

28 Jul

I always try at least one vegan/vegetarian/raw spot whenever I’m in LA. I found Cafe Gratitude through a Google search. It’s on North Larchmont in LA, a short walk from the main part of Larchmont Village which is full of quaint shops, and outdoor dining.

There’s a large outdoor patio where dogs are welcome and treated to a bowl of fresh water upon seating. The scene is very casual, perfect for a low-key brunch or lunch. They serve alcohol too (hallelujah). The menu is partly raw, and partly cooked. Everything is 100% organic and vegan. Produce is from “Be Love Farm”, their farm in Vacaville, CA.

Outdoor Seating area at Cafe Gratitude

Our server, had a huge head of coiled up dreads, and a soft-spoken voice. After Husband and I ordered, she asked “Today’s Question” which was, “What do you love to give?” Of course, you can imagine the Beavis answers THAT conjured. For a second, I stared at her vacantly wondering if I was supposed to answer, and then she was gone, presumably placing our order.

We ordered the “I am Accepting”, ironic considering I wasn’t feeling very “accepting” at the time. Perhaps if I’d eaten two portions I would have felt differently?  Our dishes arrived looking gorgeous with vibrant green kale and sprouts. I felt healthier just looking at it. It just goes to show its the QUALITY of ingredients that really counts. Look at what you can do with amazingly fresh, locally sourced, organic food, and the simplest preparation! This “sushi” bowl even got a thumbs-up from non-vegan Husband.

"I am Accepting" - "Sushi" bowl with raw kale, cucumber, avocado, nori, and fresh herbs, quinoa, spicy wasabi ginger sauce, topped with sprouts and kimchee.

I asked for hot sauce and of course, they make their own. LOVE that!

Cafe Gratitude's Homemade Hot Sauce

I was dying to try one of their smoothies. Despite being full, I couldn’t help myself. The server recommended the “I am Cool” so I got one to-go. And no, I didn’t order it because I just wanted to say that I’m cool. I was impressed how much it reminded me of a mint chocolate chip milk shake. However, the consistency was very thick, almost chunky, with constant hard bits of cacao that had to be chewed. Although I enjoyed the taste, I couldn’t take the consistency for too long and ended up pitching it halfway through.

"I am Cool" smoothie Mint chocolate chip "milkshake" with Vitamineral green and raw cacao

Of course, we couldn’t leave without one last Cafe Gratitude thought-ism. This card arrived clothespinned to our check. We didn’t do it.

Note that came with our check

As we were leaving, I spotted a guy wearing aviators and casual workout gear. It was none other than, Jake Gyllenhaal. He ordered a smoothie (I couldn’t hear which one), hopped back in his Mercedes, shook hands with a fan through his car window, and was off.

Conceptually, I respect and applaud what Cafe Gratitude is doing and wish there were more restaurants that did the same. I’m a fan of any place going against the grain with a new and different experience. However, the way it’s all packaged together was too over-the-top, touchy/feely for my taste. Each dish on the menu is named something like, “I am Extraordinary”, “I am Courageous”, “I am Luscious”, you get the idea. So when you order, you have to say, I’ll have the “I am Accepting” and the “I am Cool”. Not really my cup of tea. I couldn’t buy into but hey, that’s why the world is great right? We don’t all have to like the same things, but I can appreciate that they’re doing something unique.

There’s one thing you can’t argue. The food is fresh, tasty, and I left feeling nourished by a healthful meal. And really, that’s what us Food Buffers care about right? Good food, not trendy scene? And hey, if it’s good enough for Jake, it’s good enough for me.  I’ll definitely be back to try some of the raw food and smoothies. I am Thankful for Cafe Gratitude!

Cafe Gratitude

Casual, vegan, raw, organic

Starters – $6-$12/Entrees – $7-$13/Sides – $1.50-$3.00/Juices & Smoothies – $3.00-$9.00/Desserts – $2.25-$8/Beer & Wine -$5-$9 (glass), $21-$28 (bottle)

639 N Larchmont Blvd, Los Angeles, California 90004

11am – 10pm 7 days/week

Restaurant Experience: Rustic Canyon Wine Bar & Seasonal Kitchen

11 Jul

If you’re looking for a casual place with exceptional wine, relaxed but fun atmosphere, and tasty eats in Santa Monica, try Rustic Canyon Wine Bar and Seasonal Kitchen. The ambience and shared plates make it perfect for either a romantic date night, or an intimate dinner with a small group of friends. The menu is inspired by farmer’s markets, with a Mediterranean influence, sourced from local, sustainable agriculture, giving it a very seasonal focus. I hear the burger is what they’re known for so if that’s your thing, it’s probably worth ordering. Service at both the bar and table were friendly and attentive. I’ve read some reviews that people find it too loud, but we were there at 8:30 on a Friday and didn’t experience any issue with the noise levels.

Husband and I started at the bar with a glass of the 2009 Red Car, Box Car, Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast. It was fruity, light, and worth every penny of its $16 price tag. Had I not been the designated driver, I would have downed the entire bottle. The bar is small with five or six stools. Good for a drink with a friend or significant other, but not ideal for a larger group.

We got seated on time and received a beautiful bowl of olives to tempt the palates. I do like that they didn’t start off the meal with a huge bread bowl.

Olives with citrus and thyme at Rustic Canyon

Then we dove in…

Roasted Beets & Farro with feta, cucumbers, fennel, red onion, cherry tomatoes, yogurt

OK, I know it looks like a Jack-o-lantern in the pic below, but it’s actually a pile of bite size fried artichokes. I think this dish was the only disappointment for me. They were kind of fried beyond recognition so I really couldn’t even taste the artichoke. Or perhaps it’s a situation where what I was envisioning wasn’t what showed up. Next time I’ll try the fried cauliflower.

Fried Artichokes

Succotash: corn, tomatoes, spring veggies

Branzino with roasted eggplant, fennel, artichokes, cherry tomatoes, black olives & salsa verde

This pasta was incredibly tasty and although it was not an entrée portion, given its’ hearty, filling nature, it was portioned out appropriately.

Homemade Pasta with Carmelized Corn and Parmesan Reggiano

Overall, this was an enjoyable meal without breaking the bank. Most of the small plates are between $10-$16, but the entrees are a little pricey, with the Branzino at $32. That said, price is relative considering I’m used to the inflated costs in NY. 🙂

Rustic Canyon Wine Bar and Seasonal Kitchen 1119 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90401, Ph: 310.393.7050

Click here for reservations.

Exploring Casual, Healthy Eats in LA

13 Jun

The rest of the trip to LA was fun, but not exactly the sunny week I’d envisioned. What did I expect from June Gloom? It was mostly 60s and low 70s, but I’ll take that over the 100 degrees it was in NYC any day. YUCK.

I got a lot of walking and hiking in, plus I had two Pilates sessions at Winsor. More on that in a separate post.

I love exploring restaurants/food culture in LA. It’s no surprise that I’m such a fan of California cuisine with its’ focus on local, seasonal, fresh ingredients. I had a blast trying out new places and revisiting a few favorite vegan staples. I always find it easy to eat and live healthfully when I’m in LA.  Healthy food options are wherever you turn, and although I’ve learned June weather isn’t ideal, there’s plenty of sunshine to get you off that tush and moving around outside. I didn’t hit many fancy/trendier restaurants this trip, but focused on cafes, and casual, tasty fare.

I made numerous trips to Earth Bar at Equinox for smoothies. The “Flax Master” with acai, banana, blueberries, flax oil, B-12, L-glutamine, vegan protein, and almond milk, was tasty, and thick, just the way I like it. But on a second visit, they may have been too liberal with the supplements because I was having stomach…let’s just say “issues”.

Flax Master Smoothie at EarthBar Westwood

For lunch Wednesday, I walked to Whole Foods to check out their spread. I was amazed they had pre-cut coconut meat!! I haven’t seen that in NYC. It would be so convenient for smoothies, which reminds me, I have a young coconut in the fridge probably rotting. Ugh, need to use that up pronto.

Pre-Cut Coconut Meat at Whole Foods Westwood

The organic local nectarines looked gorgeous so I grabbed two for a snack.

California Local Nectarines at Whole Foods

I spent a couple of days hanging with RealityShowChick. (Who is now my token celebrity friend after her recent segment on 20/20).  She has two flourishing tomato plants on her porch. Most are still green, but there was one, small, perfectly round, red one begging to be picked.

Tomato Plant #1

Tomato Plant #2

As you can see below, RealityShowChick wasn’t “camera-ready” and pulled a puppetry of the finger maneuver. Either that or she’s blackmailing a clown?

The lone tomato

I stopped at M Cafe to pick up dinner. The menu had almost too many options, and took me a solid 10 minutes to make a decision. I was happy to not have the pressure of a line forming behind me. Guess I’m the only person under the age of 70 who likes to eat at 6pm. The cashier was friendly and helpful.

“First time?” she asked.  “Yup. How could you tell?” I replied, going cross-eyed from studying the menu. “Can I ask you the three questions I always ask people who are struggling to make a decision?” she asked. “Sure.”  I figured what the hell, it could only help, right?

Somewhat eccentric cashier (SEC): “How hungry are you on a scale from 1 to 10? 10 being I’m gonna rip someone’s arms off if I don’t eat right now.”

Me: “7”

SEC: “Are you looking for something hot or cold?” she asked.

Me: “I’m not sure. Maybe leaning cold, although I had a salad for lunch and don’t want another one.”

I’m not sure what the third question was. Either there wasn’t one, or I’m having a brain fart. All I remember is she recommended their signature salads, an a la carte menu consisting of various sides like sauteed vegetables, and proteins like grilled fish, tofu, etc. The questions did help reinforce my initial instincts. I’ll have to remember them next time I can’t make up my mind. I went with a Garden Roll and Inari Sushi (organic brown rice in a seasoned tofu pouch garnished with veggies).

The shiitake were splendid and reminded me of my mom’s. Usually she sprinkles sugar and shoyu over the vegetables as she sautes them. It’s always seasoned “to taste” with no real recipe. The result is a sweet/salty combo that I consider one of my favorite comfort foods.

Garden Roll; Shiitake, Hijiki and Lotus Root Inari

I turned down dessert although I was tempted by the Babycakes, and opted for this bright green Kale Lemonade. It was so refreshing!!! Tart lemonade with a little agave, balanced out with earthy Kale. Really tasty stuff. I know you’re sitting there with your nose wrinkled going eewwwwwww Kale Lemonade? Don’t judge until you’ve tried it.

Kale Lemonade from M Cafe

Thursday, I met a friend for breaky at Urth Caffe. They make the best latte art.

Japanese Green Tea Latte with Almond Milk from Urth Caffe

Oatmeal with Almond Milk and Brown Sugar, Granola, Raisin Toppings

We were in Santa Monica during lunchtime and passed an unassuming cafe on Wilshire selling vegan ice cream. There was no signage outside that I could find, just a couple tables under umbrellas. Inside was a small cafe that was brightly colored, unpretentious, and just what I had in mind. Menu items were printed on multi-colored paper and taped up along the top of the counter. There was a lot to read and the guy could tell I looked a little overwhelmed so he gestured to a laminated handout of the menu on a tray behind me. Then he pointed above his head to signs for soups of the day, and other specials. Why didn’t I use the three (or two) question test here?

Inside Interim Cafe in Santa Monica

Husband got the Maui Veggie Burger (supposedly what they’re known for), I got the Tempeh stuffed whole wheat pita with hummus, veggies, and a side salad. Husband also requested a “Tiger Woods” which was an Arnold Palmer without the alcohol. Perhaps it would be more fun if they renamed it “The Womanizer” or “Man-Whore” or something equivalent?

Maui Veggie Burger at Interim Cafe, Santa Monica

Tempeh Whole Wheat Pita Stuffer at Interim Cafe, Santa Monica

While I waited for our sandwiches, I stood in front of this damn glass case full of vegan desserts. They were calling my name, loudly, so I got the “World’s Best” vegan, gluten-free, chocolate chip cookie.

Dessert Cafe at Interim Cafe, Santa Monica

I can’t argue, I don’t think I’ve had a better chocolate chip vegan cookie than this bad boy. The sandwiches and drinks were all delicious and made me wish I had something similar in my neighborhood back home.

"World's Best" Vegan Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookie at Interim Cafe, Santa Monica

As the trip came to a close, what better way to end our stay than a margarita poolside at the W? I love you LA. Hope to see you soon.

Margarita on the rocks with salt at W Hotel Westwood

Vegan-Friendly Wedding Weekend

7 Jun

What an amazing weekend Husband and I had! Our good friends Blake and Rob got married on Saturday. Congratulations B & R! What a gorgeous wedding!!!! Judging by the way I felt yesterday, we had a ton of fun. It may be a few days until I’ve fully recuperated, but it was worth it.

Our incredibly thoughtful hosts arranged to have vegan options available throughout the weekend…how cute are they? Everything from the cocktail hour to dessert offered something for vegetarians and vegans.  I’m really not going to do this justice because I didn’t take as many pics as I should have. Blame it on the al-al-al-al-al-alco-hol. I think I have more pics at home, but I didn’t want to wait all week to share this post so these will have to do for now.

We started with the rehearsal dinner on Friday at The Modern. Guests received tickets to visit the MoMA before dinner. We arrived about a half hour early and had just enough time to breeze through Contemporary Art, then Painting and Sculpture. We saw some impressive pieces like this Jackson Pollack. (AMAZZZINNNGGGG).

One: Number 31, 1950

We headed back to The Modern promptly at 7pm. Everyone mingled over cocktails and passed hors d’oeuvres. I was so shocked when one of the restaurant managers brought over a special platter of vegan hors d’oeuvres just for me that included mini bruschetta cups and veggie spring rolls. How special!

For dinner, I received a beautiful tofu, quinoa, vegetable plate. The presentation was bright and colorful, and aroused curiosity in the other diners at table six.  In typical Danny Meyer style, the service was hospitable and the food did not disappoint.

A HUGE bowl of mixed berries arrived for dessert. They were so fresh I ate the entire bowl with a little help from Husband who kept sneaking nibbles when he thought I wasn’t looking.

On Saturday, we headed to the fabulous Mandarin Oriental Hotel in the Time Warner Center for the main event. Cocktail hour had a vast spread including passed hors d’oeuvres, a sushi, and a mediterranean bar. I was psyched when the server with the veggie spring rolls parked next to us so I had easy access to those little morsels all night. I never made it to the carving station. I was too busy making sammies out of the mediterranean bar ingredients. I stuffed the pita pockets with hummus, falafel, and olives. They were soooooo good. Sorry, no pics of these because I have no flash on my iPhone. Yes I know, I need to upgrade.

At dinner, I asked for the vegan option despite the fact that I was nearly stuffed from cocktail hour. I received a lovely plate of quinoa with haricots vert, asparagus, and sorel mushrooms (my favorite). Sorry, pic sucks. Use your imagination on this one.

Dessert was a fruit platter with a mixture of melons and berries that a few of us shared.

The next morning we were on a 9am flight to LA for the MTV Movie Awards. First stop, Native Foods Cafe. I made Husband go there before we even checked into the hotel. I had my Scorpion Burger down before the luggage arrived in the room.

After a brief snooze, we were off to the Movie Awards at the Gibson Ampitheatre. Click here for a clip from the Foo Fighters performing last night. It started pouring when it was time for the After-Party (which was completely outside) so we bailed and came back to the hotel. Rain? In LA? WTF?

We arrived back at the W starving (at least I was) and immediately ordered room service. There were limited vegan options and I was feeling a little nauseous. We got edamame, greek salad, grilled salmon salad, and a fruit plate for dessert. The food was pretty standard hotel quality, but at this point I was grateful to be eating anything at all. I’d probably avoid the fruit plate in the future. Mine had a couple moldy blueberries, and the melon was sprinkled with salt to preserve the color. Simon liked the watermelon though.

It was a whirlwind weekend and I’m totally exhausted. Looking forward to more good eats while I’m in LA and hoping to check out a couple new studios. Tomorrow, I’m testing out Winsor Pilates. I’m so looking forward to a solid workout!

Vegan in Vacationland

18 May

Greetings from Vacationland!

I’m in Maine visiting my parents for a couple days. I don’t make the trip often, so when I do, we usually cook at home, or dine at one of the coastal towns with more food options. In the summer, the tourist towns are the go-to destinations for fresh “lobsta”, clams, and homemade ice cream. Unfortunately, it’s a little early in the season for that and it has been raining nonstop here.

I researched local vegetarian/vegan spots to check out in Portland. Green Elephant, a vegetarian/vegan friendly restaurant I’d found on HappyCow looked promising. As we pulled up on Sunday, they were closed. Slight oversight. Damn you Blue Laws. P.S. Maine was the last New England state to discontinue the law that prevented department stores from opening on Sundays.

With the help of VegOut, a vegetarian restaurant iPhone app I downloaded a few months ago, I found Pom’s Thai Taste which conveniently was next door. I was skeptical of the neon signage (usually a reliable indicator of bad eats), but I was pleasantly surprised. (Perhaps it’s not so reliable after all. Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas has a neon sign and that place ROCKS). The restaurant was casual and quiet, with a handful of other diners. We had a very sweet young server who was attentive and waited patiently as my parents ordered. Aside: My parents are great at a lot of things. Ordering at restaurants isn’t one of them. They appear to be memorizing the menu, as the server hovers waiting to take their order. It doesn’t matter how long they review the menu in advance, it’s always the same. I try to act like it’s not happening right next to me. Gotta love ’em. 

Anywho…The vegetarian gyoza was my favorite. The tofu filling was heartier than the typical all veggie and the exterior was nicely seared without any greasy residue. My dad enjoyed the teriyaki chicken which had two large, but thinly pounded breasts. Somehow I managed to take photos of everything except that dish. Although my Spicy Bamboo and my mom’s Tofu Noodle were too heavily sauced, overall, the food was tasty and worth trying if you’re in the area.

It was refreshing to see some color emerging in Maine’s food world. Growing up, whenever we went out to eat, we were limited to pizza, hamburgers, sandwiches, and Americanized Chinese food. Basically, crap, crap, or a side of crap. Although quality Japanese/Sushi restaurants are still scarce, Thai is more prominent, almost like the new Chinese food. Even Pom’s Thai has three locations. Maine is on the radar with its’ own award-winning chefs/restaurants. I had a delicious meal at fivefifty-five a while ago. Sadly, it was before the blog started, so I’ll have to go back to take pics and do a full report.

I give Maine props. It has managed to maintain its’ charm by staving off the mass development of chains like Starbucks and the Gap. Or maybe the chains have no desire to come to Maine. Either way, it’s nice to not see one on every corner. I think the only Starbucks I saw was at the airport? Although I miss the convenience of home, it’s good to be back, to be grounded, and to be reminded of life outside of the City.

Next time I’ll have to check out some of the award winners, and hit a few lobsta shacks on the coast.


Vegetable Gyoza with Dipping Sauces

Tofu Noodle-Steamed rice noodles with assorted vegetables and fried tofu, topped with peanut sauce.

Spicy Bamboo dish - Stir-fried bamboo shoots, mushrooms, red and green peppers, onions, and basil leaves in chili-garlic sauce.

Dinner at Blossom Restaurant

14 Apr

Hello friends!

I had a delicioso dinner at Blossom last week with vegetarian pal Blake Brody, and just had to share some pics. I finally sucked it up and brought the “real” camera. I usually rely on my iPhone, but the camera SUCKS in low lighting. (Apple, please hurry. I need the iPhone 5 like… yesterday). I hate bringing the big camera because the enormous flash illuminates the entire room, not exactly inconspicuous.

Blossom is a vegan restaurant in Chelsea that focuses on local, organic ingredients. “Voted Best Vegetarian Restaurant 2008 & 2009” by Time Out magazine. They also have sister restaurants Cafe Blossom, Blossom Du Jour and Cocoa V.

We started with a lovely bottle of Don David malbec, perfect for a frigid rainy/haily night. Then we dove in…

We tried numerous appies because well… we’re pigs and wanted to sample a ton of dishes. The capelleti was hands-down my favorite, followed by the empanadas, and the seitan. Seitan and I have come a long way. I used to think it was disgusting; I’m slowly coming around. The sweet potato rolls were probably my least favorite. They just tasted like a rolled up salad and it happened to be freaking hailing so I wasn’t really in the mood for anything cold.

Parsnip Cappelletti ~ $10

Fresh hand-rolled ravioli stuffed with savory whipped parsnip and crushed potatoes, finished with shiitake and truffle oil. I LOVE this dish so much that we had a second round. My husband got this the first time we ate at Blossom and loved it…he’s not vegan.

Parsnip Cappelletti

Sweet Potato Rolls (raw) ~ $12

Stuffed with shredded coconut, jicama, carrot, red and yellow peppers, scallions, and avocado, with an almond ginger dipping sauce.

Sweet Potato Rolls

Porcini Flutes ~ $11

Hand-rolled phyllo filled with porcini mushrooms, almonds, and ground tempeh, served over a cashew pesto, finished with pomegranate seeds.

Porcini Flutes

Seitan Empanadas ~ $11

Served with saffron aioli and a salad of avocado and hearts of palm. They call it salad, I call it guacamole. Yup we had two rounds of this one too.

Seitan Empanadas

Whipped Sweet Potatoes ~ $6

These were unbelievably smooth. I actually could have used a little texture in them, but they were very sweet with spicy hints of cinnamon and nutmeg. I would have loved to smear it on some hot, crusty bread. (Ew – two words I’ve always vowed not to use together).

Whipped Sweet Potatoes

Port Wine Seitan ~ $22

Seitan cutlets pan-seared in a sauce of port wine and mushrooms, accompanied by creamy mashed potatoes, tempura onion, and sautéed garlic spinach. The potatoes tricked me. Their texture didn’t look smooth, but were surprisingly buttery and perfectly seasoned. It was definitely reminiscent of mashed potatoes, but with a lighter, seemingly healthier, texture.

Port Wine Seitan

Phyllo Roulade ~$18

French lentils and root vegetables baked in a phyllo crust, served over a carrot-cream sauce. Caramelized onions and swiss chard accompaniment.

Phyllo Roulade

For dessert, we opted for a glass of cava and I was so freaking stuffed I forgot to take a pic. Sorry!!

Have you tried seitan? What do you think – is seitan too processed or is it “healthy”? Do you make your own seitan? Have a favorite recipe? Please share!!!

Last Day to Check Out Martha Stewart’s Pie Pop-Up Shop NYC

27 Mar

The “pop-up” store/stand/restaurant is the buzzy marketing tactic of the moment. We’re seeing them all over Manhattan so it was only a matter of time until Martha Stewart had one. To launch her latest book, Martha Stewart’s New Pies & Tarts, Martha Stewart’s Pie Pop-Up Shop opened Saturday in the Little Owl’s event venue. This weekend only, from 10am-6pm, people can flock to the shop to stuff their pie-holes. Kind of ironic that it’s right next to Equinox.

Martha Stewart's Pie Pop-Up Shop Entrance

Close-Up of Entrance

I’m not the biggest pie/tart fan, and this obvi was not vegan paradise, but I’m a sucker for foodie events so had to check it out so I could share with all of you!!

I spent a total of MAYBE 15 minutes there. It was small and crowded. I went straight for the pies and was disappointed to see there wasn’t much left at 1pm.

Depleted Pie Case

Saturday's Pie Menu (at 1pm)

All the fruit pies were gone. I got the last coconut cream pie and snagged a vegetable tart, and a spinach feta turnover.

The coconut pie was I-N-S-A-N-E. Toasted coconut on whipped cream…mmmm soooo coconuty, rich, and creamy. The chocolate cookie pie crust was delicious, think it had some coconut in it, but the sandy texture didn’t hold together at all. Luckily, I could use the thick filling to pick up any crust stragglers. I was still so surprised how much I loved this one, I’m considering going back for another.

Coconut Cream Pie

I intended to only have two bites. Ooops.

Leftover Coconut Cream Pie

The Vegetable Tart with zucchini, tomato and red onion looked gorgeous, but was disappointing. It was bland and when I bit into it, the vegetables completely deserted the tart, leaving the crust naked. I had no problem only having a bite of this one.

Vegetable Tart

I thought the Spinach Feta Turnover was going to be boring, but I was blown away by the soft, pillowy, dough. The large salt crystals on the outside reminded me of a pretzel croissant which I adore.

Spinach Feta Turnover

The filling itself was not memorable. I really didn’t taste any feta in here so they either missed this one or there just wasn’t much there to begin with. I could have eaten a basket full of just the turnover dough.

Inside of Spinach Feta Turnover

In the back they have a demo kitchen where they’re making fresh batches of pies and answering questions. [No, there weren’t any Ms. Stewart sightings while I was there]. We were informed that the eggs in the bowl were of course, fresh-picked from Martha’s farm.

Putting Egg Wash on the Rhubarb Pie

Explaining Use of Beans as Weights in Pie Crust Baking

If you’re in the neighborhood today, it’s worth swinging by to grab a snack. They’re mini, personal pie size at $3.00 each. Yesterday they limited to one pie per person (I interpreted that as one FLAVOR per person). The pie shop is open until 6pm today so take advantage of this beautifully sunny day and make it a pietastic Sunday!

If you get a chance to go, please share your experience here. What did you think? I’d love to hear about any other flavors I didn’t try, or thoughts on those I did.

MS Pie Pop-Up Shop, photo from

Viva Las Vegan

16 Feb

I survived Vegas, again. One week in Vegas is 10 years on the body. Between the dry air and hard water, my skin is pleather, hair is hay, and my liver is shot. I’m pretty sure I’m 10 lbs heavier, and I’ve managed to break out like an angst ridden teen. And to top it off, I got incredibly sick the day after I got home. I think my body went into shock and rebelled against the week of abuse.

I was in Vegas with pal Blake Brody who was exhibiting her fall 2011 collection of in-studio footwear at the World Shoe and Accessories Show. She has the most amazing footwear designed specifically to be worn during any in-studio workout like yoga, Pilates, barre class, etc. I wear them religiously during The Bar Method and Power Pilates. Some of the collection have bows, and even Swarovski crystals, but these girls aren’t just a pretty face, they’re smart too! They are cleverly designed to maintain key functionalities like being able to point and flex, provide arch support, and have grip pads on the bottom to prevent slippage. And, being the germaphobe that I am, wearing them means I don’t have to walk barefoot in the studio [gross]. But the kicker is… they’re completely vegan!!! YAY! Check out her site.

How cute is her booth? That’s not Blake though, that’s her cute sis. 🙂

Blake Brody in-studio footwear exhibitor booth

We worked hard by day, and played hard by night. I’m pleased to report there’s no shortage of vegan eats in Vegas. Well, there might be after the damage I did. Take it from this Las Vegan, anyone who says you can’t be vegan in Vegas isn’t really trying. Here are a few highlights from our eating extravaganza.

The Sands Expo Convention Center where the WSA show was held, had limited eats unless you wanted a donut, ham, egg salad or turkey sandwich so I trekked to The Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian every day to get a decent vegan friendly lunch and snack. It literally takes about 20-30 minutes to walk there, order, and walk back, but it’s worth it.

Our daily lunch was the Grilled Vegetable Wrap at Bella Panini in The Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian. I requested it without pesto, without cheese, and added avocado and it was delish! And I snagged packets of hot sauce from the Mexican restaurant across the way.

Grilled vegetable wrap with no cheese or pesto, added avocado

Daily snack was hummus and pita from Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, The Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian

Hummus from Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf

Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

This place exceeded all my expectations. IMO, it’s the most beautiful property there. I didn’t see the rooms, but I expect they’re just as fabulous as the rest of the hotel. The lobby is incredibly dramatic with impressive digital art on all the walls and columns of the entryway.

Cosmopolitan lobby area

When we were there, the digital artwork featured a rabbit in celebration of the Chinese New Year.

Can you see the bunny?

And the bars are so chic!

Vesper bar

Fresh herbs for cocktails at Vesper bar. Love that!

Drinks at Vesper bar

We fell in love with the Rose Gimlet at The Chandelier lounge at the Cosmo. Here’s the one we ordered on our first day. Nice pour, right?

1st Rose Gimlet

We went back a couple days later. And here’s the 2nd Rose Gimlet. Uh…. Excuse me? What’s wrong with this picture? Where’s the rest of it? It’s like a 1/4 pour. Boooo. And yes, I’m the loser who showed the bartender the picture of the first drink and how robust it was in comparison to the second. He poured us a new drink. 🙂

2nd Rose Gimlet

China Poblano, Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

Nice, but Naughty - sautéed lotus root/ fresh pea shoots/sesame

Palmitos - hearts of palm/ citrus/tamarind dressing

The Unruly Monk - hand-cut noodles/ bok choy/wild wood ear mushrooms/ (no poached egg)/spicy sauce

Spicy sauce accompaniment to The Unruly Monk

Open kitchen making fresh tortillas

Jaleo, Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

I’ll preface by saying I forgot one major picture (shocker) of the Pan con Tomate (toasted slices of rustic bread brushed with fresh tomato). This was a huge oversight because it’s so amazing we literally ate three orders of it. Here are the other goodies I managed to capture. The Papas Arrugas were my favorite. Beware, it’s salty.

Papas Arrugas - Canary Island-style wrinkled baby potatoes served with mojo verde and mojo rojo

Ensalada de Coles de Bruselas con Albaricoques, Manzanas y Jamón - Warm brussels sprouts salad with apricots, apple (without Serrano ham)

Espinacas a la catalana Sautéed spinach, pine nuts, raisins and apples

Espárragos Blancos con Limón y Tomillo - White asparagus with lemon, thyme (no cheese)

Setas al Ajillo con La Serena- Sautéed wild mushrooms with La Serena potato purée

The Sangria was WAY too sweet. Of course, that didn’t prevent us from finishing it, but not a repeat order.

Sangría de Vino Tinto

Lotus of Siam, off the Strip

Lotus of Siam entrance. Looks shady, but don't judge. The food and service was fantastic.

Spring Rolls (in rice paper)

Kana Moo Krob - Stir-fried Chinese broccoli (no crispy side pork slice) substituted with garlic sauce instead of oyster.

Green Curry- with coconut cream, bamboo shoot, Thai basil, fresh chili and tofu

The server asked us how hot we wanted the Green Curry on a scale from 1-10. We both like spicy food so we agreed to “6”. It came out closer to 25.

Baby Corn- sautéed with straw mushrooms, carrot, onion, broccoli

SageAria Resort & Casino

The chef at Sage offered to create a special two-course vegan menu for me. Both courses were delicious and I was so excited to have such a warm reception for once. The Desert Shrub cocktail with Seite Leguas Tequila Reposado, prosecco, pink grapefruit and purple sage is TO DIE FOR.

Beet Salad

Roasted Vegetables - cauliflower, artichokes, salsify and much more

Brunch at Society Cafe, Encore

Shout out to Steve Wynn for going vegan last year and adding alternative vegan menus at his Wynn and Encore restaurants. Wish more places would do that!

Society Cafe vegan menu

Grapefruit Mimosa

Grilled Vegetable Flatbread with Vegan Cheese

Overall, we had a blast! I love Vegas but it’s good to be back home where I can eat well and workout regularly. Got any favorite Vegas hotspots? Any great vegan-friendly places or not-to-miss dishes? Let’s hear ’em!

Oh, and you’re probably wondering if I left up or down. I think I broke even at craps. I won $200, but I’m pretty sure I lost about the same. I found these little reminders in my purse when I got home. Viva Las Vegan!!

chips from the Cosmopolitan

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