Monthly Archives: May 2011

Eating out in Santa Monica vegetarian style

Rather than get my seedlings planted outside this Victoria Day weekend, my best friend and I spent the long weekend a few blocks from the pier in Santa Monica, California.

It was great. We left our husbands and dogs at home and spent 4 full days cycling, hiking, shopping, and, of course, eating.

Although I missed EPC and Coco, after spending 4 mornings at Urth Cafe on Main Street in Santa Monica, it was quite disappointing to return home to drip coffee and granola.

There are a few different Urth Cafe locations around the LA area and I highly recommend giving one of them a try (translate: don’t miss it!). They had a wide selection of egg, pastry and whole grain breakfast options. I enjoyed the breakfast burrito one morning and then got stuck in a wonderful oatmeal-with-fresh-strawberries-rut for the next three days. My friend – a tad more adventurous than I – enjoyed poached eggs, quiche, and an omelette.

And the coffee. Ah, the coffee. Absolutely wonderful.

Urth Cafe was so great that we dared not try anything else and so, even though we were on holidays, we quickly got into a comfortable morning routine. Just so EPC wouldn’t be jealous I brought him home a package of their famous granola.

A few blocks further south on Main Street sits the tapas restaurant Manchego. The namesake cheese and standard quince preserve – membrillo – can be found on the menu. I had been wanted to try membrillo since I came across a recipe in one of the fall issues of Vegetarian Times, so we started off with a cheese plate. The membrillo was quite nice with the cheese and baguette, so if I come across quince this fall and I may try my hand at making it.

We then moved on to zucchini rolls filled with feta and pecans, a spanish omelette, and then I enjoyed their delicious gazpacho. The spanish omelette was disappointing and a little rubbery. Perhaps it had been microwaved or reheated?

This was a sign of things to come as the dessert that we ordered was absolutely horrible. We ordered Tiramisu and when it arrived it was still slightly frozen. Truth be told this wasn’t Tiramisu at all, but some pre-made bland cake that the restaurant gets delivered and then stores in their freezer! There was no noticeable coffee. No lady fingers and certainly no mascapone cheese. Had it not been for the $8.00 bottle of wine that we enjoyed with our dinner (Manchego permits you to dine with your own wine sans cork fees!) it would have been a total loss.

I guess I shouldn’t be so scathing, after all I did get to try membrillo.

Fortunately I was able to satisfy my sweet tooth with a to-go dessert from Urth Cafe on our way back to the hotel!

My friend came across our next culinary adventure in Air Canada’s En Route magazine. In the article Zach Braf shares his favourite haunts along Laurel Canyon Drive. Although En Route may seem like an unlikely place to take a restaurant recommendation, we figured it would be the perfect “Hollywood way” to pick a restaurant based on an actor’s recommendation.

Pace restaurant is tucked beneath the iconic Laurel Canyon General Store. We made reservations for Saturday night, got dressed up and made the 30 minutes drive into Los Angeles.

Pace’s menu features Italian food and the two of enjoyed our meals and the atmosphere. The restaurant was busy. I am sure that every table was full, but we felt comfortable and were able to enjoy each other’s conversation. The staff were attentive and personable.

To start, I enjoyed their vegan puree of the day. Sounds unappetizing I know, but it was anything but. The puree was a warm blend of roasted red beets on one side of the bowl and golden beets on the other. I stirred it together and the soup was as beautiful as it was tasty. Since I hate ordering vegetarian pasta dishes (although I am sure they would have been delicious), I went with one of their 3 vegetarian pizza selections – The Aphrodite.  It was served up on a small rectangular cutting board, as the pizza itself was a rectangular personal pizza. The crust was not thin, but it certainly was not too thick.  It was closer to a homemade crust than anything you would find at a traditional pizza joint. It was delicious. If I get the chance to go back to Pace I would order the same thing again! My friend enjoyed meatier fare and started off with a caesar salad and then moved onto the spaghetti bolognese. She was happy with her meal too.

With full belly’s we enjoyed the evening drive back to the beach along Sunset Boulevard.

Speaking of taking actor’s suggestions for restaurants I made use of Alicia Silverston’s blog to source out vegetarian and vegan restaurants. It was here that I found the link to the Real Food Daily restaurant located a few short block from our hotel. I had signed out the restaurant’s cookbook from the library and tried a recipe last year, so I was delighted to learn that I would be able to try their food first hand.

Since it was so close, we went there for our first dinner in Santa Monica. It was a few blocks east of the 3rd Street Promenade.

We both loved it. The restaurant it totally vegan and has a complete and varied menu. We both enjoyed variations on the same theme –The Real Food Meal. This features a grain of choice, vegetable, and protein of choice, topped off with your choice of sauce. If you do make it to Real Food Daily and opt for The Real Food Meal I recommend the wasabi dressing and the pressed salad as a definite must!

We enjoyed it so much that we went back for dinner 3 days later.

My friend got the exact same thing, while I was more adventurous and went for The Club with a side salad.  I was certainly glad that we went to Real Food Daily a second time because the owner Ann Gentry showed up with her husband and children shortly after we placed our order. You can see how excited I was that she was in attendance from the photo of my more than half eaten clubhouse sandwich.  I just plain forgot to take a photo.

When I mentioned to our server how excited I was to come to Santa Monica and eat at Real Food Daily and see the owner in attendance, he said he would ask her to stop by our table. I grabbed a copy of the cookbook which is for sale at the restaurant (Ann’s newest cookbook comes out in the middle of June and looks wonderful) and it was returned to me autographed with a visit from Ann. I was delighted to meet her and although we saw a couple of celebrities (Eric Balfor and Natascha McElhone) this was the closet we got to meeting anyone “famous” and the only autograph we brought home. Apparently Moses Znamier of CityTV fame has picked up an Ann Gentry Cooking show which should begin airing in the next few months. Take a peek at her blog if you are interested.

I guess this makes me a certifiable cookbook geek. If there is such a thing.

I will close out this post with a quick mention of some of the fun things we did while in Santa Monica

  • Rented bicycles from Sea Mist Rentals at the base of pier and rode south to Venice Beach and Marina del Ray.
  • Visited the Venice Canals and Abbot-Kinney Blvd.
  • Enjoyed lunch at 3 Square Cafe and Bakery while shopping along Abbot-Kinney. (don’t miss Bountiful , an eclectic shop beautifully crammed full of antiques and fantastic cake plates – among other things)
  • Checked out The Market for lunch located in the mall at the south end of the Third Street Promenade
  • Hiked up Runyon Canyon for views of the Hollywood sign and the LA basin
  • Set aside a few hours to visit The Getty Centre
  • Window shopped along Rodeo Drive and walked up Beverly Drive to the Beverly Hills Hotel
  • Walked along Wilshire Blvd on Sunday morning, camera in hand,  to check out the Art Deco buildings along The Miracle Mile.

We didn’t make it for a ride on the ferris wheel at the Santa Monica pier, so we will save that for our next visit!  However, when we do return we will certainly repeat our visits to Urth Cafe, Real Food Daily, and Pace.

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Finally! Fresh Food Fast: Marinated Sesame Tofu Steaks, Soba Noodles, Greens and best of all Pea Shoots

I signed-out Peter Berley’s Fresh Food Fast from the local library a few weeks ago and have since ordered my own copy.

It took me awhile to get use to the layout of the cookbook and at first I was less than impressed  – even though I made this fantastic Spicy Coconut Sweet Potato Soup out of it.  It is a seasonal cookbook, divided into spring, summer, winter and fall.  The recipes are paired, giving you a tasty meal with two easy to prepare dishes.  Each paired recipe gives you a shopping list, pantry list, and plan of attack so you can complete the meal in as little time as possible.

This was the part that turned me off.

I felt that the shopping list and procedure for preparing the meal outside of the recipe was overkill and to be frank a waste of paper.  However, the recipes, with full on Berley style, are fantastic, easy, and full of pizzazz and creativity.  It is the recipes, the most important part of any cookbook, that compelled me to change my mind, get over the parts of the layout I didn’t like, and pick up a copy for myself.

This tofu dish was much more than a simple stir fry.  The tofu, noodles, and bok choy are all cooked up separately, giving you a noodle bowl-type meal instead of just a stir fry and since the greens are quickly cooked in the same pot as the noodles, the dishes are kept to a minimum.

The glazed tofu was delicious with just a hint of sweetness from the honey (EPC swore it was maple syrup), but the piece de resistance was the accompaniment to this spring meal whose recipe Berley included.  The pea shoot salad was served atop the other ingredients to lend a tender fresh taste.

Pea shoots were a first for EPC and I and we both loved them.  They taste exactly the same as snap peas, but are much more tender and, being pea shoots, they are much “cuter” as well.  Peter Berley included sunflower sprouts in his salad, but I choose to leave them out and go for some straight pea shoot goodness.

I should also mention that I the pea shoots were a much appreciated spring-like presence in my last Organic Box.

Marinated Sesame Tofu Steaks, Soba Noodles, and Greens

1 pound of firm tofu, cut into 12 slices
6 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon of crushed red chile flakes
2 tablespoons oil

enough noodles for 4 people
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 pound baby bok choy, rinsed and trimmed – pre-washed spinach works too and makes it extra fast!

2 cups of  pea shoots
1 teaspoon of lemon juice
2 teaspoons olive oil

  • Bring water to boil in a large pot
  • Blot the sliced tofu on paper towel to remove excess water
  • Mix 6 tablespoons soy sauce with the vinegar, honey and red chiles in a small bowl and whisk to combine
  • Heat a large skillet (I use my 12-inch cast iron) and add the oil.  Let it warm up and then add the tofu slices in one layer.  Fry the tofu for 5 minutes until the bottom is browned
  • Flip the tofu and top with the soy sauce mixture and cook until the sauce has thickened – about 5 minutes
  • When the water boils add the soba noodles and cook according to the package directions.
  • When the noodles are cooked, drain and rinse.  Transfer to a large bowl and add the tablespoon of soy sauce, sesame oil and sesame seeds and toss to coat.
  • In the same pot, with enough water to cover the bottom, add the bok choy and steam for about 2 minutes.
  • In a small bowl mix the lemon juice and oil with a dash of salt.  Add the pea shoots and toss to mix.
  • Serve the noodles topped with greens and tofu with a sizeable garnish of pea shoots.

Eat Alberta Conference 2011: an afternoon with our local food hereos

After a morning spent at our chosen sessions all the attendees and presenters descended upon Enterprise Square for lunch.

There was a fantastic tasting menu set up featuring local cheeses, meats, breads, honey, mashed potatoes, and two wonderful beets salads.  To top it all off one of the organizers Valerie of A Canadian Foodie made a wonderful vegetarian cassoulet.  To satisfy our  sweet tooth there was a variety of cookies and wonderful crunchy Pink Lady apples from Steve and Dan’s Fruit.  The organizers thought of everything!

The food doesn’t stop there.  After lunch I was off to Apple Pie Making with Christan Miller.  This was my first hands on session of the day and it was so much fun.  We were put into groups of four and measured out our flour and shortening and blended it all together using the Miller family’s special technique. Of course we were all excited to try our pies, but that anticipation was overshadowed by the apple peeler, corer, slicer in action.

Everyone was amazed.

I like to make a lot of apple sauce, apple butter, and now apple pies in the fall so I will certainly be picking up one of these little gems.

Our mini personal pies were stored in the fridge until the end of the day and, if I may jump out of chronological order, when I baked it later that evening I was delighted with the results.   I only hope I can replicate the perfect pie crust on my own!

My final session  got to the heart of what they day was all about: Making a Personal Connection to Your Food Source.  Presenter Maryann Borch and her family operate Good Note Community Farm.

She provided attendees with a glimpse into life on her family’s farm and also provided information about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) around Edmonton for vegetables, as well as meat, eggs, and cheese, something that Good Note participates in a well.  She also touched on information about the Community Garden Network as well as local food distribution organizations: Locavoria, Eat Local First – Good Food Box, and The Organic Box.

To end off the session Maryann had us all roll newspaper around wine bottles to make newsprint pots so we could take home  purple bunch onions and Calabrese broccoli seedlings to get a start on our own garden.

Kevin Kossowan ended off the day with a presentation of his From Local Farms Project.  You can view Kevin’s video here on his award-winning blog.  It was an inspiring and informative way to end a day long celebration of local food heroes.

If you haven’t guessed already I had a fantastic time and I am already looking forward to next year’s incarnation!  It was a truly awe-inspiring to attend a conference with a focus on local food and learn about the variety of food produced in our area.  I encourage you all to take a look at the links throughout today’s and yesterday’s posts and support our local food heroes!

Eat Alberta Conference 2011 a major success!

Starting off the day with coffee from Transcend and ginger apricot scones from Queen of Tarts would make one think that the day could not get much better, but it did.  Spending Saturday at the first ever Eat Alberta Conference meant my day just kept getting better and better!

After a busy week at work and an extended fun-filled Easter weekend visit with my parents the thought did cross my mind to just stay in bed Saturday morning and skip out on the conference.

What a terrible move that would have been.  I am so glad I attended! I had a fantastic time, met great people, learned a lot, and ate a ton of fantastic food!

Furthermore, the day went off without a hitch.  The organizers did a splendid job and I am sure that next year’s event will feature another sell-out crowd of very happy participants.

We started off the day with the morning keynote talk featuring Jenny and James from Sundog Organics.  The talk provided wonderful insight into the life of a local food producer and Jenny shared some great tips and pointers about producing food on your own. The information about obtaining seed from small producers such as Heritage Harvest Seed and Salt Spring Seeds will really come in handy now that spring has finally arrived!  I will be sure to stop in at their stall this summer at the downtown farmers market.

My first session was Honey Tasting with Patty Milligan from Lola Canola.  I will confess that this was the session I was most excited about and it was great.  We got to try 8 different types of honey from all over the world: mango blossom honey from Indonesia, acacia honey from Europe, blackberry honey from the USA, and traditional sweet clover honey from Canada.

Keeping with the spirit of the conference we also got to try some great honey from Alberta, which was one of my favourites.  I will definitely be picking up some dandelion honey from Lola Canola’s booth at the Downtown Farmer’s market at the end of the month.  Another favourite was the raspberry honey (the real McCoy, not honey flavoured with raspberries) from British Columbia and of course my all time favourite buckwheat honey from Saskatchewan.

Who knew that there is such a variety of honey out there and that bees are so interesting.  Thanks to Ms Milligan for a truly informative and tasty session!

Next I was off to learn about edible plants from around Edmonton with local botanist Robert Rogers.  I was surprised to learn that fireweed is an edible plant. Apparently the shoots are reminiscent of fresh asparagus and the flowers make a great addition to a salad.  He also went into great deal about cattail.  I was very interested to learn that the pollen from  the brush like top of cattail can be collected and combined 50/50 with wheat flour  to make delicious crepes.

He also talked about a popular plant around the city-the bearer of the tart rosehip.  I have always wanted to forage for rosehips and make some jelly and if I ever do get around to it I will take Robert’s hint to pick the berries after the first frost.  Apparently this makes it easier to separate the pulp from the seeds.  If you are interested in learning more about edible wild plants take a look at Robert’s website for upcoming events!

After learning about the tasty parts of cow parsnip and bear root, as well as the delicious ways to make use of highbush cranberries,  it was back to Enterprise Square for lunch!

Stay tuned for my next post on the afternoon edition of the Eat Albert Conference 2011!

The Organic Box, Baby Turnips and Peter Berley: just in time for longer, warmer, and sunnier days.

Well, I did it.

I got my husband to eat turnip and swiss chard AND like it.

All thanks to Peter Berley’s fabulous recipe for Turnip and Leek Soup with Potatoes and Chard from his Fresh Food Fast cookbook.  Did I mention it is fabulously easy as well?

I got two bunches of sweet baby turnips in my Organic Box.  For those of you who don’t know, The Organic Box is a local organic produce service.  They source out local food producers when the season permits and when it doesn’t they source from small farms across the Americas.  Even though I get to pick every item that shows up in my box, it still feels like a surprise each time I get home and open up the box to check out the great mix of fruits and veggies!  They are not just produce though.  You can add on locally produced organic milk from Saxby Dairy Producers in the south end of Edmonton, and grains and pulses from Saskatchewan farms, not to mention their newest addition locally produced organic fruit wines and much much more.

Back to the turnips.

I have never seen or, in my memory, eaten baby turnips.  They were wonderful in the soup and I imagine they would be wonderful roasted as well.  They are about the size of radishes and tied together in that familiar bunch of green tops and creamy white roots.

And now back to the soup.

I have long since learned that Peter Berley’s simple list of ingredients and seasonings make the most wonderful dishes.  I neglected to check my spices before starting the soup and I had to sub in cumin seeds for the caraway, which worked out fine, but I am sure the caraway would have been much better.

I will admit that I used to think if the dish did not contain a long list of spices that it would taste bland or need spicing up, but the perfect blend of vegetables, butter, and salt and pepper make a soup that can make anyone, even my husband, learn to love cruciferous root vegetables and leafy greens.

Leek and Turnip Soup with Potatoes and Chard

3 Tablespoons butter (substitute oil to make it vegan)
2 medium leeks
1 teaspoon sea salt
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
1 pound small white turnips, quartered or cut into 3/4 inch pieces
1 pound of potatoes cut into 1 inch pieces (about 1 pound)
1 bunch swiss chard, stemmed, trimmed and chopped
Freshly ground pepper

  • In a 3 quart saucepan melt the butter over medium heat
  • Add the leeks and a dash or two of salt.  Saute for about 3-5 minutes.
  • Add the garlic and caraway seeds and stir together.
  • Add 6 cups of water, turnips, potatoes, and bring to a boil.
  • Add 1 teaspoon salt and reduce the heat to medium and simmer, covered for 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender
  • Add the chard and cook for about 3 minutes until tender.
  • Season with salt and pepper and serve.

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