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Will and I had our first experience with Gracias Madre in San Francisco.  At peak dining time, the restaurant was packed and we had to wait fifteen minutes for a table in the chilly outside patio.  When he read that the restaurant opened a location in Los Angeles a few months after, we decided to make the trek out of suburbia to West Hollywood and give it a try.

A pomelo margarita and a pineapple and guava agua fresca. Both were good.

The decor of the West Hollywood location is straight out of a Pinterest design board. Large windows let in plenty of light while white tiled tables give the place a vaguely ethnic flair.  Hanging air plants, rustic light fixtures, and a large outdoor seating area to enjoy the sunshine make the restaurant a welcoming place, despite the line of beautiful, fashionable people in designer sunglasses waiting for seating.

Gracias Madre is a completely vegan restaurant serving Mexican food.  There’s not a lot of these in LA, so it there was a novelty factor in our coming here.

We shared a very good cauliflower appetizer.  Florets of cauliflower were seasoned with cumin and other spices and then deep fried, not to golden perfection, but close enough.  Dipped in their table-side red salsa, it was a promising start to the meal.

I ordered the entree tamal, which had some sort of squash stuffing and came with a side of black beans. The tamal was decent and the squash wasn’t overly sweet like I was fearing.  The accompanying pickled vegetables were in a bad place between unrefined and rustic.  The sad spoonful of pico de gallo looked and tasted out of place. The beans were quite good smeared on a bite of tamal.  This dish was okay, but for $13, I wanted more than ‘okay.’ I know that the price of the dish reflects the localness of the ingredients, paying the servers, rent, etc. but I do wish it were more exciting than “one tamale and a side of beans.”

Will had the chilaquiles, which weren’t bad.  They weren’t the best chilaquiles I’ve had, and not even the best vegan version I’ve had.  They also came with a side of those tasty black beans.

For dessert, I had a rich, custardy house-made flan. Impressive for a vegan dessert. It tasted more of vanilla than caramel and best of all, didn’t taste vegan.  Will had an apple cobbler with house-made vanilla ice-cream that was large enough to share.  I’m usually not that excited by apple desserts, but even I have to admit this one was good. Just the right amount of spice, tartness, and restrained sweetness.

When Will went outside after the meal, some passerby’s asked him if the food was good. He said something along the lines of  ”The food is good if you’re vegan and you want Mexican-type food and you don’t mind paying a lot for it.”

Gracias Madre
8905 Melrose Ave
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(323) 978-2170

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vegan_basque_stew
I had Lemonade’s chicken basque for the first time a few weeks ago and thought it was tasty.  My fears of dry chunks of chicken were blown away by how tender and flavorful the stew was.  Putting olives in a stew? Brilliant!  Of course, as soon as I downed the bowl, I thought, “Hey, I bet I can make a pretty decent vegan rendition of this.”

I went online and looked up the recipe for the original dish and knocked out all of the non-vegetarian ingredients. I wanted something to take the place of the chunks of chicken. Cauliflower was out because while I love the brassica, I was afraid the stew would taste like sulfur. Faux meat was out because I don’t really like using it if I can avoid it. Tofu was out because I couldn’t picture it in the stew. Jackfruit? Maybe.

My ingredient list ended up being (in case you can’t read my handwriting):

  • green olives
  • purple olives
  • chickpeas (for protein)
  • fresh thyme
  • 4 roma tomatoes
  • flat leaf parsley
  • artichoke hearts (I used canned)
  • green jackfruit (Optional! comes in cans from the Asian market)
  • onion
  • smoked paprika
  • red bell pepper
  • a quarter of a preserved lemon
  • a dab of tomato paste
  • fancy olive oil to finish
  • vegetable stock
  • 2 cloves garlic

Dice the onion and bell pepper and sautee it in the pan for a few minutes. When they’re soft, add in a dab of tomato paste, a healthy sprinkle of smoked paprika and stir. You want the paste to take on some color.  Add in a large sprig of thyme. I leave the leaves on the sprig so it’s easy to fish out whole later.  Seed and chop the tomatoes and put them in the pot. Generously salt and give it a stir. While all that is cooking, pit and roughly chop the olives. You don’t want to chop the olives up too much. I’d leave it so that the olives are only quartered.  Add those and them pour in 1 part stock and 1 part water.

While the stock is coming to a boil, rinse the artichoke and jackfruit pieces. Halve the hearts and hand shred the jackfruit pieces. Add them to the pot.  Rinse the canned chickpeas and add that into the stock too.  At this point, cover the pot and let it simmer on low for an hour. Conversely, you can do I what I did and cook it all in the pressure cooker under low pressure for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, chop up a bunch of parsley and the quarter of the preserved lemon.  I didn’t add the lemon into the stock because I wanted it to still taste fresh and I find that cooking preserved lemon makes it a little bitter.  When the soup is done, turn off the heat. Stir in the in the parsley and lemon and a good glug of the olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste.

I served this over plain cooked bulgur wheat, but I imagine it’d be good over any type of nutty starch — farro, brown rice, quinoa even.

In hindsight, I could have left the jackfruit out. I wanted something that had the texture of shredded chicken, but the jackfruit ended up having the same texture as the artichoke hearts.  I could have just left it out and used chickpeas for protein, but I didn’t want the soup to be too ‘beany’ in texture.

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Tieks

I’ve been seeing ads for Tieks brand ballet slippers everywhere and have to admit that their marketing has been working on me.  A classic looking ballet flat that’s durable, slip-free, and comfortable? Count me in.

tldr;

Pros: Comfortable, classic, no-slip grippy thing at the bottom, good customer service, free shipping and returns.

Cons: Toe-cleavage, expensive.

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Who: LA Weekly
What: A food tasting event
Where: LA Mart in DTLA
When: 12pm-5pm on March 9th 2014
Why: Because you love food and/or you read the LA Weekly

The Weekly event formerly known as PLATE formerly known as the Gold Standard is taking place in early March. If you’re interested in going and would like to purchase pre-sale tickets, follow this link and use LOUISE as the presale code.

Here’s a list of some vendors who will be there and I’ll bold the ones I’m excited about:
Allumette, Angelini Osteria, Animal, Bestia, Border Grill, Bucato, Cacao Mexicatessen, Chichen Itza, chi’SPACCA, Church & State, Coni’Seafood, Father’s Office, Got Kosher? Café & Bakery, Goldie’s, Good Girl Dinette, Guerrilla Tacos, Hinoki & the Bird, Jitlada Southern Thai, Kogi BBQ, Little Sister, Loteria Grill, Mariscos Jalisco, Mexicali Taco & Co., Nickel Diner, The Oinkster, Salt’s Cure, Sotto, Sqirl, Star King BBQ, and Superba Snack Bar.

Disclaimer:
LA Weekly is paying for my ticket (+1) to this event.

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Choosing a candle to burn in our household is more complicated than one would expect.  Will and I tend to have different opinions on what scents smell good, which made me wonder what he would think of this candle I bought.  Buying a scented candle online without first smelling it is a risky thing to do, but the risk pays off because we both love this candle.

Paddywax candle

I wanted to get a soy candle since it’s longer and cleaner burning.  That narrowed down our choices a little, but what scent to get? I tend to like more masculine scents that aren’t too overpowering.  Since I didn’t want a sweet-smelling candle, and I remembered liking an olive leaf hand lotion a lot, this one caught my eye. Thyme AND Olive Leaf? Yes please.

On first sniff, this candle has a strong, musky scent with a powdery finish. There’s not much sweetness to it and tends toward the herbal side. When I burned it during a bath, at first I was alarmed by how little the smell diffused throughout our tiny bathroom, but now I think of it as a feature, not a bug. The smell is subtle and lingers and after I blow it out, the scent changes a little bit.  In the end, it made my bathroom smell like a relaxing yoga studio or a super expensive store.  It was perfect.

I love that the candle makes the house smell nice, but not in the “Hey guys, I’m burning a scented candle!” kind of way. Tthat it’s in a recycled wine jar and comes with a top in case you don’t want the scent to permeate (why wouldn’t you??) are also reasons why I like this candle.

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Kale from our garden in pasta with ground pistachios. And an egg.

Here comes another quick 30-minute meal.  I was feeling lazy and didn’t want to go to the supermarket, so I snipped a few leaves of kale from the backyard to add to spaghetti.

Ingredients:

  • 6-8 leaves of kale chopped finely
  • 1/4 cup pistachio
  • garlic
  • 1 dried chile (I used cayenne, but crushed red chili works)
  • half a lemon
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • pasta (I used spaghetti)

Boil water and cook pasta to just before it’s done.  While the pasta is cooking, sautee chopped garlic, crushed chile, and kale leaves in olive oil on low heat.  Salt that mixture to taste, but it’s ok if it’s a little under salted if you’re used salted pistachios like I did. When the pasta is about to be done, add in a few teaspoons more oil and the crushed pistachio to the pan and toss to mix the ingredients.

When the pasta is just about done, turn the pan with the kale’s heat to high, add in the pasta and 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid.  Stir and toss to distribute everything. This should make a sticky, creamy sauce as it cooks down.  If the pasta is still too chewy for your taste, add more pasta cooking liquid. Salt to taste.  When it’s done, turn off the heat, squeeze half a lemon over it, stir, and it’s done.

For a complete meal, I like topping it with a runny fried egg.

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Spicy mussels with cauliflower for dinner.

Credit goes to Will who found this spicy mussels with cauliflower recipe on the NYTimes. It was a pretty easy one-pot meal. I portioned half the cauliflower and chile mixture out to mix with cannellini beans to bake for a bit.

Mussels are so easy to make, it’s a shame I don’t cook them more frequently.  I also read they’re a great source of protein and they’re pretty sustainable as far as seafood goes.

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