eat here now: quintessence, nyc

lunch @ quintessence When a friend first brought me to Quintessence, I was concerned. When one goes out to dinner one expects baked pasta, grilled pesto chicken, or a strip of bacon wrapped around a piece of char-broiled filet – not salad or newfangled raw food made to recreate our favorite dishes. On the menu I spied “fofu” (say what?!) and a litany of unfamiliar concoctions of gastronomy. I’ve had unfortunate raw food experiences before, and if the bland, dark aisles of Whole Foods were any indication of my happiness, I was ready to nab a chicken skewer after dinner.

That was before my food arrived. That was before I became completely and utterly ADDICTED to Quintessence. Many raw food restaurants focus less on presentation and flavor in favor of healthful fare. Granted, I don’t mind a little virtue on the plate, but it should be savory, delicious and well-presented. Quintessence, a raw food oasis in the East Village, does not disappoint. Everything served at the cozy eatery is 100% organic, vegan and raw, with unique flavor combinations and exotic ingredients. This is upscale cuisine with maximum health benefits.

From light latkes to bowls of fresh, crisp salads with cold-pressed dressings to the city’s best guacamole to nutmeat (I know this sounds frightening, but it’s a delicious combination of coconut meat, nuts and olives pressed into a granola-like consistency) to cashew milk to homemade pecan pie, Quintessence has been my go-to joint when I need to refuel and re-energize.

wmc's lunch

lick the screen: homemade pancakes with blueberry maple syrup

the unveiling of the pancake Why on earth would you ever buy BISQUICK? Talk to me about this, people. Make me understand why you would fix sweet, delicious pancakes out of a TUB or a mold-gathering BOX when you can fix a mix in two minutes, flat. But I know what you’re thinking: who has the time to fix such a breakfast when oatmeal or a cereal bar is a realistic option. Believe me when i say this breakfast is a cinch to make, and it’s even better when you make the batter the night before! Dust off the forks and get ready pant, kids!

Pancake Recipe from Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Express: 130 Recipes for Good Food Fast (makes 4-6 medium cakes) – I should note that I halved the recipe for the mix, as I’m fixing this lazy day breakfast for a table of one. Double the ingredients if you’ve got a miniature army to feed.

Ingredients for the Mix
2 cups all-purpose flour*
1.5 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt*
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon sugar*

Note: You will have a cup left over of the mix. Either store it for another day or use this recipe for two people.

Ingredients for the Batter
1 cup of the Mix
1 large egg
1 tablespoon butter, melted and cooled
1 cup milk*
butter for frying

Ingredients for Blueberry syrup
1/2 cup GOOD maple syrup
1 1/2 cup fresh blueberries

Directions: First assemble your mix. After you’ve measured out a cup of mix, in a large bowl start to stir in your wet ingredients. You may also blitz the lot in a stand mixer/food processor. I recommend letting the batter stand for at least a 1/2 hour, preferably overnight. I ladle out small portions of the cakes onto a buttered, non-stick skillet. When you start to see both the edges and the center bubble (about 1-2 minutes), the cakes are ready for flipping.

While the cakes are cookin’ (I’ve been DYING to say this, can’t you tell?!), in a medium saucepan on med/high heat, cook the blueberries and syrup until they thicken to a compote consistency. I tend to like my fruit syrups chunkier, so I actually use markedly less syrup than what the recipe calls. However, this is purely a taste game, and alter the consistency to your liking.

*I use cane sugar, unbleached flour, sea salt, and 2% milk

easy breezy recipe

delicious: kale salad: who knew?

who knew that I'd dig kale? I have something to confess: I loathe kale. As of late, kale has been banished from my vernacular, tucked away in that dark country filled with horrid, bitter greens – a place where broccoli reigned supreme. So when I prattled on the phone to my best friend about this miraculous kale salad that I had just consumed and its complex flavors, she nearly collapsed on the other line. She was incredulous: YOU ATE KALE?!

You’re damn right I ate kale. And the plot is about to advance. Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a day-long holiday in Southampton, where a raw food chef had us prepare our lunch under her careful instruction. Kale salad, slippery soba noodles, and a rich, creamy raw chocolate mousse – I assure you that not only was I full with nutritious eats, I marveled over the ingredients (Banana as a creaming agent? Cayenne pepper in a salad?) and how they managed to transform the tasteless and the bitter to the extraordinary. But I digress! My friends, get ready to change your kale outlook; you’re about to pant. While this isn’t the exact recipe as followed – this is the blueprint for flavor – I’ve tweaked it for my palate/taste, and I encourage you to do the same. Remember with ingredients, you can always add but you can never take away, so go slow with additions and taste the leaves as of you go. This recipe serves 1-2.

delicious kale salad Ingredients: Note: I use all local and/or organic ingredients because this is how I roll.
3-4 cups of chopped kale leaves.
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1/4 cup of chopped sundried tomatoes (I use the ones packed in olive oil)
2 tablespoons of chopped, fresh tomato
1/4 cup sliced cucumber
1 teaspoon of sunflower seeds
1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon of Kosher (or sea) salt
1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon of soy sauce
1-2 tablespoons of tahini

There is no rhyme or reason for when to add which ingredients, but I do encourage you to toss the salad vigorously, so the salt, lemon, and other seasonings can really break down the bitterness of the kale. Enjoy!

quick eats: panini press applewood smoked bacon & provolone

quick eats: panini press applewood smoked bacon & provolone If you’re willing to abandon a grilled cheese and bacon sandwich, I feel for you. You must be tormented or perhaps unaware of the simplistic glory wedged between two slices of bread. As a child, I slathered butter on top of my chewy white bread and fried up a little bit of bliss. If this sandwich is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

But I’ve gotten a little fancier (as well as health-conscious) in my old age, so the white bread is verboten, and a tweak in flavor is in order. Believe me when I say you can make a delicious, decadent sandwich, which rivals the fare at expensive eateries.

2 slices of whole grain bread
2-3 slices of applewood smoked bacon
2 slices of provolone (I’ve also made this with gouda, gruyere, and gorgonzola, and it’s magical every which way you turn)

I positioned the slices of bacon on a rack in the broiler, and cooked for approximately 5-8 minutes until blistering and slightly charred. I prefer cooking bacon in the oven in this way because the fat drips off and you’re left with full-on flavor. While the bacon is sizzling, I heat up the panini press (you can always use an indoor grill pan or a good cast-iron skillet) and get my bread & cheese ready.

You could slather on some butter, mayo, or any creamy condiment, or perhaps a few slices of fresh tomato and a bunch or arugula, but I’m a purist and for me, it’s all about the bacon and cheese. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t give you options.

After the bacon is cooked to perfection, add it to your cheese + bread, and add to the press. Cook for 2-3 minutes until you see the divine grill markets and your bread is toasted and the cheese is oozing out from the sides of the bread.

Slice, eat, wail.

attention: san diego foodies: cooks confab 8.9.09

Confab Group in San Diego

What began as a few local chefs chatting over food and drink has now evolved into Cooks Confab; a grouping of San Diego’s most innovative chefs sharing their culinary talents with San Diegans by hosting stylishly fun, grand scale dinner parties. At the core of the group is a like-minded passion for food and deep respect for the way in which it is grown, raised, prepared and ultimately served. The Cooks Confab not only strive for culinary perfection, but are also dedicated to practicing culinary responsibility- a portion of each tick price benefits Slow Food Urban San Diego. A progressive concept that changes venues with each event, each of the now eighteen chefs involved takes a turn hosting at their venue, bringing his or her own distinct flavor to the chosen theme or central ingredient. Next up, Chef Antonio Friscia of Stingaree Restaurant and Nightclub will host “Crat Beer!” The event will be held Sunday, August 9th from 6-9pm on the Stingaree rooftop and will showcase two culinary interpretations/pairings for every locally crafted brew. Details below!

WHAT: The Cooks Confab, a group of San Diego’s most celebrated chefs, unites again to share their appetite for culinary collaboration on Sunday, August 9th at Stingaree. The evening’s theme: Craft Beer! Teaming up with nationally recognized breweries from around the region, including the likes of Stone and Ale Smith, the Cooks Confab has partnered with participating brew masters to create skillfully crafted food and brew pairings. Guests will be able to sample two diverse culinary interpretations with each specialty brew. Foodies and beer connoisseurs alike will take to the Stingaree rooftop to enjoy what will surely be a summer cookout to never forget! Ticket prices are $90 and $5 for every one ticket sold is donated to Slow Food Urban San Diego.

WHEN: Sunday, August 9th, 6:00 p.m. 9:00 p.m.
WHERE: Stingaree 454 Sixth Ave Downtown San Diego

Photo Credit: Boyd Harris

eco-fabulous & delicious: naked juices

naked's repackaging In an effort to reduce their carbon footprint, California-based Naked Juice is pledging to reduce virgin plastic consumption by 8.1 million pounds per year by launching the “reNEWabottleâ„¢” packaging – bottles manufactured from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic – the first of its kind in the United States. As of July 9, all of their 32oz bottles have been repackaged, and Naked will continue to streamline the recycled bottles down to their smaller sizes. Click here to read the press release. In person, the bottles are sleek, resemble glass, and actually make the juices that much more inviting with their clear packaging as opposed to the film-look of the plastic bottles.

In other delicious news, I recently had the opportunity to sample a host of new flavors from Naked, including the tart and thick, Acai Machine (available now!), the perfect-for-the-holidays, Chai Spiced Cider (available Aug/Sept), and the smooth & creamy, protein-enriched Mango (available Aug/Sept) drinks – and I’m wailing that my budget is more tap water than elixir!!!

naked's new flavors

bake this: very blueberry muffins

muffins are out of the oven! For a long time, I believed reduced-fat baking was a cruel and unusual punishment foisted on those who feel comfortable eating a whole box of Snackwell cookies. They mix their applesauce and accept the chewy texture and bland taste of banana loaves. Low-fat bakers (dare I even speak the term!) are bent on ruining rich desserts for everyone. And while I still hold this axiom close to my heart, I’m realizing that there isn’t anything wrong with smart, healthful substitutions that don’t degrade the flavor of the dessert, but rather elevate it. Recipes that were once fully conceived using white, processed flour, are tangier with the inclusion of whole wheat and yogurt. And after I had a chance to sample Stonyfield’s luscious non-fat, organic Greek yogurt, OIKOS (You simply NEED the OIKOS blueberry flavor in your life! You cannot go on without!!!), as well as a batch of muffins made with said yogurt, I had to hit the stand mixer, stat.

dry mixture Ingredients (Recipe comes courtesy of Stonyfield)
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup Stonyfield Organic OIKOS Plain Greek Yogurt OR you can use Stonyfield plain yogurt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup blueberries (fresh or lightly thawed)
t teaspoon or lemon zest

yogurt & baking soda mixtureDirections:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 12-muffin tin. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, combine the yogurt with baking soda; set the mixture aside. Beat the egg in a third bowl, then add the oil, sugar and vanilla, and stir to combine. Add the flour mixture and the yogurt mixture alternately to the egg mixture and stir just until blended. Gently fold in the blueberries. Pour the batter into the muffin tin and bake for 25-30 minutes until the muffins are golden brown. Remove them from the tin and cool on a wire rack. Yields 12 muffins.

muffin batter hits the oven! Ingredient Notes: I only use organic cane sugar when baking. It’s less processed than granulated, and I’m convinced it imparts a deeper, richer flavor. All my flour is unbleached, local or organic. I use large eggs when I bake (always), and I used fresh blueberries for this recipe. If you are dead-set against using whole wheat flour, sub with another cup of white flour. I’ve included a snap of the finished (all-white flour) muffin below.

Recipe Notes: Ensure that all of your ingredients are at room temperature (egg/yogurt). This ensures that everything bakes at the same temperature and it also guarantees that your batter will be fluffier and moist. When you combine the yogurt and baking soda, don’t be alarmed when you see the consistency of the yogurt markedly change. The texture will resemble egg whites, and the mixture will rise a bit – this is due to the baking soda, which is a leavening agent. I added the flour and yogurt mixture alternatively, in thirds, and I folded the mixture in (I suppose it’s a knee-jerk reaction to witnessing an egg-white texture). The finished batter will taste a bit tangy, but don’t fear – it’s the yogurt. It will be delish coming out of the oven!

Update: I just sampled a cooled muffin, and these are DAMN GOOD. While it’s not the same angelic white puff of sugar, it’s heartier, filling, and a little spicier. I know that sounds odd when you think of blueberry muffins, but I think mixing both white & whole wheat flour imparts a wholesome, richer taste to the muffin. The sizes are smaller and I’m already stuffed after one little muff. YUM and a PONY.

Stonyfield Oikos Yogurt
healthy blueberry muffins with stonyfield greek yogurt

eat this: chobani pomegranate yogurt

Chobani 0% Pomegranate Greek Yogurt - lowres Five years ago I ate plastic. While working for a company that offered over 250 digital cable channels to millions of customers in the tri-state area, every morning I’d stomp over to the communal refrigerator and feed myself a container of Dannon non-fat yogurt. Sometimes I preferred Kellogg’s high-fructose corn syrup-laden granola cereal on top of my strawberry plastic, other times I was adventurous by adding real fruit to the faux. In short, I was eating cold, creamy goop. Delicious, right?!

After reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I got wise to the shady food game (GMOs, anyone?) and to marketing executives who were predators posing as house pets. I read food labels (smite you, natural!). I threw anything with more than five ingredients in the bin (this includes you, Thomas’s English Muffin). Anything which contained ‘high-fructose corn syrup’ and ‘partially hydrated oils’ were not only banned from my pantry, they were excised from my vocabulary and added to my do not call list. It took me two months to become accustomed to the taste of real yogurt. Now I can’t even conceive of dipping a spoon into a tub of pink plastic.

And after years of consuming scores of organic and locally-produced yogurts, I may have stumbled upon my true love – Chobani ($1.59). Since I have a carb problem (don’t you dare judge), any way I can incorporate protein into my diet is a win-win. Free of preservatives, artificial flavors, and rBGH-treated milk, Chobani has twice as much protein (34% of your DV) as competing brands, contains more than 20% of your daily calcium requirement, and is made with real fruit.

But more importantly, it’s shut up and a pony delicious. I’m presently obsessed with the vanilla, strawberry, and the new pomegranate and pineapple varieties, and these are the rare yogurts that I can eat sans granola – it’s that luscious. So if you’re seeking to switch up your staid breakfast of snack, check out your local supermarket for Chobani, or click here for store locations.

Update!: I just learned that Chobani’s official dietitian, Nicki Briggs, MS, RD, is on twitter! Follow her: @ChobaniNicki

just when you thought this banana bread couldn’t get any better … it just went asylum!

ode to a banana Remember when I rhapsodized on the glory that was Martha Stewart’s Banana Bread Recipe? I’ve baked this bread so many times, my co-workers at my former job begged me stop for they feared massive weight gain. The bread was addictive, it was the epitome of the Road to Ruin. People who loathed coconut scurried away with their moist piece in palm; people who lived a sugar-less life broke down at the sight of the golden brown loaf.

I can write John Donne-worthy sonnets about this damn bread.

Years ago, I was watching Nigella Lawson espousing on the necessity of home cooks to develop their repertoire – a handful of recipes that they’ve perfected over time. And since I knew I could cajole sane people to join cults after unearthing this bit of Jesus out of the oven, I started tinkering. Since the original recipe makes two loaves, I kept one loaf as the control (in the event that I botched it with the blueberries) and folded in 1/3 cup of frozen blueberries into the remaining 1/2 of the batter. Other alterations include: you can use the same amount of low-fat or whole milk if you don’t have buttermilk on hand; I’ve reduced the oil to 1 cup instead of the 1 1/3 cup for which the recipe calls and the bread was still moist, and I’ve sometimes added 1/8 of a teaspoon of almond extract and the flavor is INSANE.

But the blueberries are the real magic. The tartness of the blueberry against the super sweet ripe banana, balanced by the vanilla extract, yields a well-balanced flavor without feeling as if you’re eating a FRUIT CAKE (FAIL). If you want to make both loaves blueberry, I would only add 1/2 cup of blueberries to the lot as this fruit tends to burst and expand in the oven. The last thing you want is a SOGGY LOAF (epic FAIL).

banana bread - now with blueberries

chow here: pinisi bakery, east village

Rugelach @ Pinisi Bakery, East Village    Tell me – is that a rugelach or is that a rugelach. Over dinner the other night, my friend and I determined that if a girl couldn’t sit down and eat an honest cupcake, she wasn’t a girl worth knowing. We would dole out sympathy if she wasn’t a cupcake-eating sort, however, if she even pursed her lips at the sign of a homemade sweet, we’d hit the ground running. After we made this bold proclamation over Thai food, we headed over to one of my dear friend’s favorite sweet spots: Pinisi Bakery, a family owned & operated bakery, where all the goods are made on-site.

The options were endless! Who could refuse the babka bread topped with a cinnamon swirl? Who in their right mind could turn away from a red velvet cupcake with a tuft of blonde icing?! And who wouldn’t maw at their sleeve if they couldn’t savor the caramelized sugar, the fruity raspberry and the crumbly dough of a rugelach (remember when I made it?!). If you’re able to walk away from all of this deliciousness without wailing, I’m sorry, you’re not human.

The shop is pretty cozy with a small counter filled with books, but the sweets are worth the visit.

indulge here: bottega louie, downtown los angeles

at louie - the tarts were divine!
to die for cupcakes at bottega louie
at louie
at louie - swoon for the macaroons! Seeking a sweet spot to sample macaroons in psychedelic hues and mixed-berry tartlets? Want to snag a jar of homemade Arrabbiata sauce or a bottle of imported balsamic vinegar? Then check out Bottega Louie, a gourmet shop/restaurant, which offers affordable eats and decadent sweets in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. Read this incredible review, which is spot-on, & make sure you pay a visit to this divine gourmand.