Monday, December 15, 2008

Ole! Ole Ole Ole!! Brasil, Brasil...

I have a secret desire to be Brazilian. With a culture full of sexy and beautiful things, Brazilians dance samba all night long, drink regularly, speak in gorgeous Portuguese that makes anything sound delightful, and eat everything with black beans, rice and plantains....they know how to live!

After moving to Culver City, I got a taste of my wish by visiting Café Brasil. This Venice Boulevard (near Overland) restaurant has an open-air patio during summer, and plastic cover with heat lamps in winter provide an outdoor seating feel year-round. Three televisions almost always have soccer playing, but you can barely hear it thanks to the festive music. Nighttime candlelight only adds to the mismatched tables and chairs that typically rock back and forth on an unleveled floor. They take no reservations and have no table service. Some of these potential shortcomings shift to adoration the second you take a bite of the food.

Order from the counter and friendly faces will guide you through their simple menu. Try the grilled chicken in Brazilian spices that offer more flavor than heat, savory Brazilian croquettes filled with meat and potatoes, or their traditional feijoada stew, cooked overnight with black beans, pork and beef. They serve no alcohol, but encourage store bought bottles of wine and beer. They'll provide the glasses with no corkage fee.

I can’t get enough of the grilled fish with traditional side orders. It’s one of the healthiest things you could ask for, but I opt out of the plantains for the collard greens and savor every bite of the black bean soup. Most of the menu offers healthy options. Brazilian diets are full of proteins and vegetables, and Café Brasil offers the best of grilled, lean meats, steamed vegetables and their Venice Beach salad is full of the kind of nutrients that a body needs.

On my last visit, another customer asked if I was Brazilian. Looks like I got my wish after all.

Café Brasil
Culver City
10831 Venice Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90034

Washington Blvd Location:
11736 West Washington Blvd.

$15 per person

Monday, October 13, 2008

Restaurant Pick: Healthy, Delicious and Raw in the OC

Every couple of months or so, an errand takes me into Orange County. It’s a trek, so I break up the drive with a stop at my favorite raw vegan restaurant: the magnificent Au Lac. I make excuses to head there now, because it’s impossible to find food like this anywhere else.

There's an ongoing rumor about Au Lac's Chef Ito, that he hasn’t spoken in 10 years. I can’t confirm this because every time I ask, he smiles and walks away. The staff tells me Ito puts all of his energy into creating the food – which feels like two restaurants in one. With raw selections, and an almost vegan traditional Vietnamese menu, the choices are endless.

If you choose raw, bring your wallet and don't be in a rush. Au Lac provides organic, raw, high quality, meticulously prepared food. It takes a bit of time, so enjoy slowing down and order a beer, or the healthy favorite Kombucha – a Chinese fermented, effervescent tea.

If you’re starving, order from the vegan menu which can arrive on your table within minutes. But if you’re patient and dedicated to raw, try the Raw Hand Roll. It’s a simple mix of avocado, pistachio meat, original sauce and spices wrapped in nori. It sounds overly simple, but it's incredibly memorable.

I always go for the raw Curried Rice. They use a soaked natural rice filled with broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, green olives, mushrooms and avocados with just a little bit of heat. You can’t go wrong with the “Taco,” which has crispy cabbage on the outside, a “cream” sauce made of pistachios, and added mushrooms, dill pickles, avocado, red bell pepper and coconut meat. Everyone recommended it, and I’m glad I listened because the combination of these ingredients makes for a hearty, filling, flavorful and healthy take on a Mexican dish.

My buddy insisted I try the Choconut Xtasy (pictured), even though I was stuffed thanks to their massive portions. But I ate the whole thing.

Anyone going to Orange County soon? We can use the carpool lane...
16563 Brookhurst St, Fountain Valley, CA 92708
Closed Mondays

Read my 2005 summer-long journey into the raw world.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Restaurant Pick: Orean The Health Express

I'm proud to say that I'm from Pasadena. It's a fantastic city, complete with the Tournament of Roses Parade (I was even a Rose Princess), San Gabriel mountains, the legendary and beautiful Rose Bowl, and a jam-packed, grease-filled restaurant row.

KFC, McDonalds, Burger King, Roscoe's Chicken n Waffles, Carl's Jr and Taco Bell...they're all here in one city block. And nestled right between them is Orean: The Health Express.

Here's what Orean's is: vegetarian, lowfat fast food. AND IT'S TASTY.  It's easy to miss on Lake Avenue. They opened their doors in 1988, and clearly don't have a budget for decor. There's no indoor seating, only three outdoor picnic tables, and hand-written signs.

It's a little ghetto.

But what's fascinating is their could this run-down looking shack offer some of the most flavorful, inexpensive vegan food in all of LA?   There's not a drop of animal product on the premises, but there's a slew of fresh ingredients.  I've fooled ice cream lovers into trying what they thought was a regular vanilla shake...made entirely of soy and hundreds of calories and fat grams less than the golden arches alternative.   Then there's the favorite Big-O-Chilli Cheese Burger, or my husband's choice: the "Chick-un" Burger.  I've tried most of the menu, including their interesting take on a Mexican favorite called the African Tostada, a corn tortilla with a mix of blackeyed peas, salsa, tahineh, lettuce, tomatoes and soy cheese.  I'm addicted to their Philly Cheese Sandwich with Peppers and Green Onions and the Super Green Drink.  The "steak" has a wonderful finish with melted soy cheese, and the drink works on a hot day.

Let's be real, it's not particularly healthy.  No fast food is.  But when you can cut over 75% of fat (all from vegetable fat), oil and calories from a fast food craving - this can turn into a habit. Everytime I visit my hometown, I stop by and bring home some goodies that get eaten quickly...

It's right on Lake Avenue, just above the 210 Freeway. Here's where you can find out more:

Orean's Health Express
817 n. Lake Blvd
Pasadena, California
830am - 9pm
Walk-up & Drive-through!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Carb concerns? Not me...

Are you one of the carb obsessed? I don't worry too much about carbs...BUT I believe there are certain ones that are not so good for you. Wheat doesn't work for a number of reasons: with very little nutritional value, the body tends to have a hard time processing it aka "moving" it out. I've been living proof that eliminating it from my diet was one of the best things I could have done for myself. But then that leaves rice...

Which I can't live without! A good bowl of rice is the basis for so many of the dishes I love, and's a good ingredient. But eating it for every meal packs on the pounds. My wonderful specialists (Dr. Hakim Gochette and Carol White, RN) recommended toasting rice, which adjusts its makeup within your body, (GET THIS) from a carb to a protein.

And the flavor is delicious. It has a toasted flavor to it, and you can prepare it as you would any other rice dish. Take care to cook it for slightly less time than you would regular rice...otherwise, it might be a little mushy. I prepare a few cups worth, then store it in a glass container to be ready for use!

Place any whole grain rice in a dry skillet, and over a medium heat...toast until golden brown. Some kernels may pop, but this is fine. Cool, store and and cook as needed, as you would regular rice.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

What You Should Have in Your Pantry & Fridge

I should have an inflated head, because my friends tell me over and over again, “You’re such an interesting cook!” If they only knew the truth: I typically prepare and eat the same things over and over again, week after week, and year after year...

So when I discover something amazing and new, it's a real event! But making these culinary leaps into the unknown without the right kitchen ingredients makes for a tiresome and frustrating experiment. So I think it's time to go back to basics...

A friend asked me what essentials are in my own kitchen….the ones that make the process of making creating new and amazing meals easier.

Note: It took a couple of years to figure this out for myself. Make your OWN DISCOVERIES in the stores, so that you find out which favorites are YOURS. The point is to make sure that you really like them. You won’t go shopping for the key items each time you’re at the store, but the second you run out…replace it!

I go shopping at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, farmer's markets, health food stores and even some supermarket chains (typically the ethnic food/specialty food aisle).

  • Braggs Liquid Aminos – this is a GREAT substitute for soy sauce. It’s a liquid protein concentrate derived from soybeans, has naturally occurring sodium and works on any recipe that calls for soy sauce, dressings, sauces and marinades among others. Find it at Whole Food's or health food stores.
  • Margarine - Earth Balance from Trader Joe's or Whole Foods. I have toast every morning with this item...
  • Butter - salted and unsalted
  • Rice Milk – I prefer this to soy milk. The flavor is better to my tastebuds...
  • Fire Roasted Chile Salsa – I put this over eggs, use it with tortilla chips to snack on, the possibilities are endless.
  • Tofu (firm and organic) – we slice it then grill ours on the Foreman Grill, then marinate it with Braggs, mustard, garlic, yummm....
  • Ezekiel Bread – it’s the best bread you can buy. Made of sprouted wheat and with no wheat or gluten. We haven’t missed regular bread for a long time now. I would highly recommend making the switch for health reasons and taste!
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Sesame Oil
  • Canola Oil
  • Hemp Oil – I LOVE this oil. The flavor is wonderful, and it’s got a ridiculous amount of nutritional value because of its 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids matches the balance required by the human body. Use it in salad dressings, marinades, or just sprinkle it on your food. I sprinkle it over anything that requires oil.
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Kosher/Rock Salt
  • Dried Basil
  • Dried Cilantro
  • Oregano
  • Bay Leaves
  • Tabasco Sauce – yep, just plain old Tabasco. The real deal. I love the flavor.
  • Pineapple – my favorite fruit. You should have yours ready to eat anytime too...
  • Spinach – goes well in pastas, pizzas or you can steam it and add a squirt of Braggs.
  • Asparagus – I love it raw or cooked.
  • Garlic – I always keep this handy.
  • Onion - I prefer red. They're a little sweeter.
  • Cucumbers – see my marinated cucumbers recipe.
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Basil – pesto is one of the easiest things to make. And you can add it to anything. And contrary to popular belief, you don’t need cheese to make it right!
  • Sun Dried Tomatoes
  • Red Bell Peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Rice pasta (penne, spaghetti and linguini) – My husband and I don’t eat wheat, so we have some substitutions. Rice pasta is the best tasting for us.
  • Whole Grain Mustard
  • Raspberry or Blueberry fruit spread – be careful NOT to get preserves. They have added sugar.
  • PURE Maple Syrup (Grade B) – you can add this to anything else that requires sugar. Including ontop of cereal, tea. Unfortunately, this isn’t the same for baking.
  • Canned Tomatoes
  • Canned Tomato Sauce
  • Coconut Milk – using this in place of cream adds a different flavor that I’ve come to love.
  • Artichoke Antipasto – Trader Joe’s has this. It’s a great spread on crackers, or even the base of pizza crusts.
  • Basmati Rice – if you can find organic, buy it!
  • Canned Red Salmon – I prefer this to tuna. Less mercury.
  • Rice Noodles – this ingredient is perfect for any Asian themed dishes.
  • Vegetable Broth
  • Rice Crackers
  • Organic Soyonaise – if you want mayo, whip up some from scratch using eggs and a blender. Type in “homemade mayo” into Google, and you’re golden.
  • Pine Nuts – needed for pesto or a handful in salads.
  • Raw Walnuts – a good source of protein, and better than the roasted/salted variety. Take a handful in a plastic bag in your purse for when you get the munchies.
  • Morning Star “fake” bacon & sausages – if you gave up meat and miss the flavor, try these. They’ve got good flavor!
  • Frozen blueberries – good for smoothies
  • Rice pizza crusts – can be found in Whole Foods, and they’re wheat free.
  • Gardenburger “Riblets” – DAMNED tasty meat substitute.
  • Soy Dream “Ice Cream” – perfect for those late night cravings, and you don’t have the stomach ache afterwards…
  • Roasted Artichoke and Parmesan Dip – again, found in Trader Joe’s. One scoop of this in cooked pasta, and you’ve got a quick and creamy meal.
  • Hummus – I can’t live without it, especially when I’ve got to eat something right away.
  • Soy Cheddar Cheese Slices – these can be found in Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, but the price is better at the latter.
  • Goat Milk Gouda – this is SUCH good, decadent cheese.
  • Goat Milk Feta – Trader Joe’s again. And it’s better than regular feta.
  • Rice Parmesan Cheese – Make a Whole Food’s run for this. It tastes similar to the Kraft cousin.
  • Garlic & Herb Almond Cheese – Whole Foods.
Happy shopping!

Monday, December 10, 2007

True Food For Your Soul

True, the only meat I eat is seafood.  But many of my friends don't eat animals, so watching them navigate through most restaurants...they have a little bit of a challenge.

Since my husband is vegetarian, here's what his dining out experience is like:
  • Bland, underseasoned or just straight up funky food.  I mean funky in the least flattering way.  There seems to be an agreement throughout the veggie restaurant world, where seasoning is a sin.
  • One vegetarian option is available.  Usually a pasta dish with garlic and olive oil.  Honestly, he can make this better at home.  Or he tries three side-orders from the menu, but mashed potatoes get tired after awhile.
  • Vegetarian options are not particularly healthy.  Menu choices are fried mozzarella sticks, cheese selections, french fries, caesar salads or something that isn't very satisfying.  
So imagine being taken to Soul Vegetarian, where everything on the menu was an option.   In the heart of Los Angeles, Soul Vegetarian makes some of the most amazing vegetarian food, full of flavor, with dishes that are healthy and filling. And for you meat eaters, Soul Vegetarian could have you fooled into thinking you were actually eating meat.  Yes it could...

Soul Vegetarian has figured out a veggie take on one of the most appealing (and typically carnivorous) cuisines - southern food. Because most menu items are can go overboard.  If you feel like ordering another of their fantastic greens (proof that you don't need ham hocks to add flavor), or their signature "Grab Cakes" (meatless crab cakes), or just have a sampler plate for $10 bucks...where you can pick and choose a little bit of what you're in the mood for.

Soul Vegetarian - SADLY, CLOSED IN 2008
4067 W. Pico Blvd (near Crenshaw on the north side of the street)

Friday, December 7, 2007

My Version of San Francisco's Seafood Stew

I get my best ideas when I'm being lazy. I simply didn't want to go to the store today. So I made do with what was in the kitchen. A frozen pack of seafood, tomato sauce, spices and pasta made me proud. Too bad I couldn't share it with anyone, because I ate it all at one sitting.

Mona's Damned-Tasty Cioppino
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped fine
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
  • 1 squeeze anchovy paste
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped (I prefer red over green, better flavor)
  • 8 oz of tomato sauce (Trader Joe's has a great marinara)
  • 1 healthy tablespoon of pure maple syrup
  • 1 pack Trader Joe's frozen seafood pack with shrimp, scallops, calamari (but you can substitute a firm fish if you don't eat shellfish)
  • Salt to taste

In a heavy steel pan (at least 2 quarts), pour olive oil, saute onion and cook until opaque. Add garlic in oil over moderate heat, stirring for 1 minute. Add oregano, anchovy paste and red pepper flake and and cook for 5 minutes. Add bell pepper, stirring, until softened. Stir in tomato sauce and simmer for at least 20 minutes. You're just making a basic sauce that you can use for ANY dish....

BUT, you're about to add the seafood to make it even tastier! Defrost the frozen seafood and add to the sauce until the seafood feels firm to touch, or when it turns white.

Serve over pasta or rice. Two of you can eat this. Or one very hungry, lazy lady...