Monday, March 29, 2010

Skinny bitchtastic brownies

There I go again, being crude and vulgar. First nut milk, now this? Well, such language is one reason the book Skinny Bitch is so polarizing. Once you brush aside all the animal rights brouhaha, the message is blunt but true—people need to stop eating like fat pigs! I can understand how more sensitive souls could see it as one big, harsh, body-image-trashing slur, but if you can take it lightheartedly, it’s really a great read, full of important points and good ideas. I tend to be a little deficient in the sensitivity department with things like this, so I found the book fun and entertaining, and I can see it being a swift kick in the ass for those who need that.

I’ve been cooking a lot lately from Skinny Bitch in the Kitch, the companion book to Skinny Bitch, and these brownies are a great example of the straightforward, tasty, no-frills recipes contained there. I made them even more virtuous by replacing some of the oil with prune purée, but you can just use 6 Tbsp oil if you’d rather.

5 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
1 1/4 cups Sucanat, or other natural sweetener
3/4 cup firm silken tofu (about 3/4 of a Mori-Nu pack)
1/4 cup safflower or canola oil
2 Tbsp puréed prune baby food
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 tsp sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8x8-inch baking pan. In a food processor, combine the melted chocolate, Sucanat, tofu, oil, prune purée, and vanilla.

Process until smooth. You could just stop here and eat this like a pudding, and it would be heavenly. Just look how silky it is!

But you probably want to make the brownies, so go ahead and add the flour, cocoa powder, and salt.

Pulse together until just combined.

Transfer to the pan and spread evenly.

Bake for 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack.

You don’t have to be a skinny bitch to love these brownies (clearly, I am proof of that). What you do have to be is a lover of all things deeply fudgy and darkly chocolatey. I highly recommend having some soy or almond milk nearby to chug between bites—these brownies are the very definition of rich. And they’re made entirely in a food processor—it doesn’t get any easier!

Yield: 16 servings. Per serving: 153 calories, 8.5g fat (3g sat), 20.5g carbs, 2g fiber, 2.3g protein.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Almost vegan in Los Angeles IV

(See also: Parts one, two, and three)

It’s the final installment of my LA trip! On Sunday morning, the rain we’d feared all weekend finally showed up. Though it only drizzled throughout the day, it was funny to see all the Los Angelinos panic and break out their umbrellas.

A craving for another Jamba Juice smoothie led us to Larchmont Avenue, where we ended up not even going to JJ because we spotted Crumbs Bakery first.

Cupcakes at 10am? Why not?!

Matt ate a chocolate cappuccino cupcake for breakfast. (I don't know what's cuter here, the cupcake or the boy.)

We also bought a mini-cupcake sampler pack of some of their bestsellers.

They were very impressive to look at, and every single one tasted divine. (They were gone by the next morning.)

Across the street, we discovered a small but bustling little farmers market.

After a lap around, I bought a pack of whole wheat pita bread and a container of artichoke hummus for lunch.

Matt indulged me with a trip to Trader Joe’s after that. I’d never been to one, and my degree of excitement was probably a little silly, but what can I say. I had to buy some Spanish olive oil, coconut milk, cocoa powder, and a reusable shopping bag while I was there.

We spent the next several hours walking up and down Melrose, shopping and browsing and coveting. So many of the stores, like Shrine and S&G, were right up our alley. And don't even talk to us about the shoe stores!

After returning to the hotel and getting cleaned up, we headed out to Santa Monica to attend an entertaining little steampunk "show." On our way back out of town, Matt honored another foodie request of mine with a quick stop at Planet Raw.

The menu there fascinates me – they have so many items I’m curious about and would love to try someday – but understandably, it was not a place Matt wanted to actually have a meal, especially after he was nearly sickened by the smell inside. It was not pleasant. I have no idea what it was, but they should really work on that, as it makes eating there far less appetizing. Anyway, Matt held his nose as they made the smoothie I ordered, and we took it to go.

Luckily, the smoothie itself (a Mocha Mylk Shake) was wonderful. It contained nut milk of some kind, cacao, maca, and coffee, and was topped with nut kream and a sprinkle of goji berry granola. It tasted much like a fast food chocolate shake, in a good way. Even Matt liked it.

We met Bobby and Mary and co. at Malediction Society, yet another darkwave/industrial dance night. This one was at Club Monte Cristo on Wilshire Blvd, and it was probably my favorite of the trip. We got back to the hotel late, got up early the next morning, and flew home to KC. Overall, we both had a fantastic time in Los Angeles. I definitely can't wait to go back sometime.

I'll leave you with a bit of randomness—we drove by this place several times, and though we certainly didn’t eat there, we were endlessly amused by the "Crispy Chickenjoy" and "Juicy Yumburger" signs. Enjoy.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Almost vegan in Los Angeles III

(See also: Parts one and two)

Matt and I actually got up at a decent hour on Saturday; we had a lunch date with my friend Steve! Integrated into my 35-day tour of Europe were several smaller tours, so we had people hopping on and off at various times. Steve joined the tour in Spain and was with us for Barcelona, Nice, Florence, and Rome. Though originally from Philadelphia, Steve has lived in LA for quite some time, so he graciously offered to be our tour guide for the day, beginning with lunch. This was not just any lunch—we dined at a well-known, ritzy, paparazzi-plagued restaurant in the heart of Beverly Hills called the Ivy.

According to Steve, this is the place to see and be seen in Los Angeles. A quick Google search yields innumerable pictures of celebrity sightings at the Ivy, and the cars sitting out front (a Rolls Royce and an Aston Martin among them) belied its status as a hotspot of the local bourgeoisie. And we got to eat there! How cool is that?! It's a good thing Steve thought ahead and made reservations, because the line outside was quite long.

Surrounded by a white picket fence and filled with flowers, antiques, and other rustic, folksy touches, the Ivy is homey and country-cottage-like to an almost ironic degree. The menu is described as American with a Louisiana/Cajun flair, and though the prices somewhat shocked and appalled our Midwestern eyes, Steve too-kindly insisted it was his treat. To start, I sipped on a mixed berry frappé jazzed up with a splash of lime juice.

Steve ate light—a house salad with garlic toast.

Matt had the blackened cod with mushroom gravy and broccoli.

Yep, that’s fish. Go ahead, be outraged. But I know there are plenty of semi-vegetarians out there who are ok with fish on occasion. Even I, the Almost Vegan, am known to eat fish a couple times a year, either in the absence of other options or, once in a great, great while, because I have the opportunity to taste seafood at its absolute finest. The catfish I ate in Vienna is one example of that, and here I give you another—the Ivy’s swordfish tacos with guacamole, pico de gallo, fresh tortillas, pinto beans, and Mexican rice. And I am not the least bit sorry I got this, because WOWOWOW! I was blown away! The lime-cumin marinade/sauce that coated the generous chunks of swordfish was indescribable. There’s certainly no reason to eat swordfish when you live in the dead center of the country, but I was in California, damnit! I could not stop talking about this dish for days. Absolutely amazing!

For dessert, the three of us split the light and lovely tiramisu, a satisfying end to a stellar meal.

As far as I’m concerned, we could have flown back to KC at that point, and I would have considered the trip a smashing success. But we still had the whole afternoon ahead of us, and Steve took us on a whirlwind tour of some of the nicest areas of the city. We walked up and down Rodeo Drive, browsing stores like Dolce & Gabbana and Burberry and marveling at the clean, pretty streets and storefronts.

I even saw Dr. Rey’s office (did anyone else watch Dr. 90210?!). We followed that up with a drive down Melrose, which is a shopper’s paradise. We only stopped at a few stores, but it was enough to make Matt and I resolve to return there the next day. Steve was a veritable encyclopedia of what’s what in Los Angeles, and along the way pointed out to us lots of restaurants, clubs, and sites that are, as he called them, "very scene." It was so great to get to hang out with Steve, and for him to take hours out of his Saturday afternoon show us around like that. When he returned us to our hotel as dusk fell, we could not thank him enough. We still can’t, in fact—THANK YOU, Steve! I hope we get to hang out again in the future!

It was dinnertime, and Matt let me pick a place from my long list of LA veg eateries I wished to try. We were a tad pressed for time, so I chose one nearby, the all-vegan Café Flourish.

According to their website, they just closed their doors! That’s sad, but it makes me even more glad that I got to eat there. We shared the M-Moo Cacao smoothie to start, a blend of raw cacao powder, black Mission figs, Medjool dates, fresh almond milk, vanilla bean, and espresso. We both really enjoyed it.

Both of us were enticed by their cornmeal-crusted pizzas. I chose the Mediterranean Gratitude, with arugula pesto, roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, olive tapenade, and pine nut parmesan.

Matt ate the That’s Amore, with tomato sauce, herb-ground "sausage," caramelized onions, mushrooms, and Daiya cheese.

Somehow, we still had room left to indulge our now-omnipresent frozen yogurt craving. It had been recommended to us that we try Yogurtland.

I had a fresh-fruit-topped blackberry yogurt to balance out my candy-topped one from Friday night. It was very good, but I found that Yogurtland’s selection seemed sparse compared to that of Cherry On Top.

We ended up taking our time getting ready, and hung out with Bobby and Mary that night at a private club near the airport.

There’s still one more day left in LA...stay tuned!

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Almost vegan in Los Angeles II

(See also: Part one)

I slept in on Friday morning while Matt went exploring and breakfasting. When I finally got up around 2pm, we had only enough time to go buy ibuprofen and do a second round of Lip Service bargain basement shopping, and then we already had to prepare for the evening ahead. We met Matt’s friends Bobby and Mary at the downtown loft of their friend Dahna, then hopped over to Little Tokyo and a restaurant called Shojin.

Situated quietly on the third floor of the mall, I would never have guessed this little Japanese fusion restaurant was such a veg paradise. The lengthy menu (all vegan and all organic) made it very hard to choose just one thing. I started with tofu-okara cakes, since I’d never tried okara. They left a little to be desired—I don’t know if they were underseasoned, or if okara is just not my thing, but I found them kind of bland, and unfortunately the vegan mayo-like dip didn’t help. Oh well.

Mary got a salad, and Dahna got some tofu-pumpkin croquettes that looked amazing.

Just imagine—an all-vegan sushi menu! It pains me to say I did not partake (but you’ll see why); however, Matt did... did Mary and Dahna.

Bobby got a fried tofu appetizer...

...and a fantastic-looking "beef"-and-tofu noodle bowl.

I got my first-ever restaurant seitan dish—a noodle bowl with spicy sesame seitan. Aaahh, SO good! I want more!

Matt and I had already noticed during our drives around town that frozen yogurt is BIG in LA. On the bottom floor of the Little Tokyo mall, we found a just-opened place called Cherry On Top offering buy-one-get-one-free frozen yogurts. One entire wall was made up of self-serve yogurt machines, and the two huge islands in the middlle of the store held dozens upon dozens of topping options, from fresh fruit to candy to nuts to cereal. And at 39 cents per ounce, the price was very non-LA.

We spent that night at Das Bunker, another industrial dance night at a sprawling club (we’re talking three dance floors, three full bars, two lounges, and a patio) called The Catch One on Pico Blvd.

Two more days of LA fun are to yet come!

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Almost vegan in Los Angeles I

I’m finally going to tell you all about the trip to Los Angeles I took in January! (I had to put to some space between it and my Europe posts, hence the delay.) This will be a multi-parter, since I have quite a few pictures. For the most part the weather was lovely—what a wonderful escape from the bitter midwestern winter!

Matt and I left KC early on a Thursday morning, and arrived in sunny California by 10am. My luggage, unfortunately, did not. How can Southwest, arguably the best airline there is, do that to the same person twice in three years?! (At least the situation wasn’t as dire as the first time it happened, in the spring of 2007—I went on a Caribbean cruise with my family, and out of 11 suitcases, the only one that made it to the ship was my mom’s and sister’s suitcase full of nothing but shoes. We had to spend the first three days at sea with nothing but the clothes on our backs and what little we had in our carryons. Gross!) Anyway, I tried to put the missing luggage out of my mind, and Matt and I grabbed lunch in Hollywood at a place we spotted called Gindi Thai.

The inside was clean, simple, and relaxed. We were right down the road from both Warner Bros. and ABC Studios, and we noticed at least a couple tables of people having lunchtime meetings, talking showbiz, reviewing scripts, etc.

I got an unsweetened passion fruit iced tea to drink, and Matt and I shared some miso soup to start.

I got the Vegan’s Fried Rice, which had broccoli, carrot, celery, red and green pepper, and fried tofu cubes. The sauce was sweet, spicy, and tangy all at once, and for some reason that rice was some of the chewiest, nuttiest, best rice I’ve ever had. I raved and raved about this dish; I wish I could have it again!

Matt and I spent the afternoon driving through the neighborhoods of the Hollywood Hills, trying to peek through the foliage at the pricey homes and stopping now and then for a photo op.

On the drive back to our hotel (the Hollywood Inn Express North, if you’re curious), we stopped for a snack. We don’t have Jamba Juice in KC, so we took advantage of its prevalence in LA by sharing a mixed berry soy smoothie. (Is it just me, or this smoothie glowing? "Jamba Juice OF THE GODS!" ::Cue angels singing::)

Not only had my luggage not shown up yet at 4pm, but Southwest was claiming they still didn’t even know where it was! I was freaking out a bit, but Matt helped calm me down, and we went shopping at the Lip Service bargain basement, which we’d planned to do anyway. That place is a grown-up-goth-kid’s dream come true. A really nice girl gave us a tour of their studio, where they design all the clothes and sew all the prototypes, and then we browsed their clearance racks like kids in a candy store. Matt very generously bought me some clubbing clothes. All in all, we walked away with $250-300 worth of awesome clothing for a mere $125.

After securing me an outfit for the evening, we set out in search of shoes, but another call to Southwest yielded the joyful info that my suitcase had been recovered! We were en route to The Grove mall, but we stopped in our tracks, swung by a Whole Foods for a quick takeout dinner, and returned to our hotel to change and get ready. We spent our first night in LA at The Ruby, a club on Hollywood Blvd, the Hollywood Blvd. Thursday is Perversion, a goth-industrial-electro-darkwave dance night. We watched people dance, Matt danced quite a bit, I even danced a little, and we both drank plenty. More than plenty, in fact...when we awoke the next morning to find pictures on my camera of us cavorting drunkenly down the Hollywood Walk of Fame, posing with the most inanely random stars, we almost fell over laughing (but didn’t, because then our heads would have hurt even more).

No sir, I can’t say I remember much of this at all. Oh, the hilarity. I daresay these pictures alone were worth the hangover.

More LA awesomeness to come!

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