Azucar (Revisit)

I LOVE Azucar. They have delicious desserts for good prices, the staff is always super friendly and in addition to fancy desserts their Cuban snacks and pastries plus coffee are on point.

Divina Cake - Vanilla Cake, Passionfruit Curd, Raspberries and Toasted Marshmallow Topping

Divina Cake – Vanilla Cake, Passionfruit Curd, Raspberries and Toasted Marshmallow Topping

I used to go to OB more often but now I rarely find an excuse to go. This time we were heading to Pizza Port and so obviously had to make an obligatory stop at Azucar, even though I was too full to eat dessert. Fortunately I could take these babies to go.

Azucar Cakes

Azucar Cakes

My favorite thing at Azucar are their mini cakes. Instead of buying a huge slice of cake you can buy little mini cakes (for $4 to $6 dollars). They are all complex and lovely with a lot of them showing a Cuban influence in the use of tropical fruits or dulce de leche. Some stand outs include the Divina (pictured here) with passion fruit and marshmallow, the cheese flan with coconut, the cinco leches cake, mango cheesecake, rum coconut cake….amongst so many.

The Divina cake is one I always get. I ADORE passion fruit, and this is the perfect combination as passion fruit’s tartness takes so well with super sweet foods like marshmallow or white chocolate. The Divina is a super moist vanilla cake filled with passion fruit curd, fresh raspberries and topped with toasted marshmallow. Amazing.

Divina Cake

The other cake I got was called the Havana I think. It is also vanilla cake (you can always see the black specks of real vanilla in their cakes, always a plus in my book). But this one is filled with a thick layer of dulce de leche and topped with vanilla frosting and crystallized sugar. Sweeter than the Divina and a little sweet for my taste but my sister loves it. This is for her which is why I left the plastic layer around it (sorreez). I was afraid that if I unraveled the plastic covering all that dulce de leche would just ooze out…For a picture sans plastic see my old post on Azucar here.

Havana Cake

If you want something simpler than a cake they also have fantastic pastries; scones (including a gluten free option), flaky pastries filled with guava and cheese, brownies, bars, cookies (try the Mojito cookie or the peanut-butter-white-chocolate Tiger cookie), caramels (dark chocolate with sea salt), muffins and even coconut almond granola. They also have some Cuban inspired salty snacks like croquettes and papa rellenos. As far as real food goes they have inventive sandwiches like the Cuban in Paris (brie, ginger spread, arugula, pears), Berto (serrano ham, manchego cheese, arugula, drizzle of extra virgin olive oil) and the Havana (oven roasted turkey breast, cream cheese, guava marmalade). And lastly the many coffee options are all great.

But I would definitely order a cake.



Just sayin’.


Azucar

4820 Newport Avenue (Ocean Beach)
San Diego, CA 92107
619-523-2020

www.iloveazucar.com

Impossibly Creamy Hummus

So I have attempted to make hummus several times. It seems so easy. Canned chickpeas, tahini, garlic, lemon, whiz everything in a food processor. And every time its been disappointing. Sometime ago I finally pinpointed the crux of my too lumpy hummus, chickpea skins. I didn’t even realize chickpeas had skins until as instructed I pinched those little buggers and a little thin film peeled away. And most vexing of all is that I could find no shortcut for pulling those stupid little skins off, there was no trick or shortcut, you just had to peel the skins off the chickpeas…one by one. So needless to say I didn’t try to make hummus again for a long time. Until I found myself with too much time on my hands, a can of chickpeas, lemons I had to use and a tahini jar I forgot I had.

Hummus

Super Creamy Hummus

After seeing Joy the Baker’s recipe for Creamy Avocado Hummus and her honest account of it taking 20 minutes to peel 2 cups of chickpeas I decided that maybe just making a smaller portion of hummus was the answer. Ultimately ended up making the whole can of chickpeas because didn’t really have any plans for the rest of the chickpeas anyways…and I’d say it took a solid 15 minutes.


Anyways I don’t mean to sound discouraging. It’s not something I would do after a long day of work but if I was having people over for dinner / bringing it to someone else’s house I wanted to impress / going all out and making an intense Mediterranean dinner I would set aside the 15 minutes to peel the chickpeas and do it right. After all we were quite pleased with the results. The end product is velvety smooth and tastes so creamy that you’ll feel like you’re eating something super buttery and rich instead of fairly healthy chickpea puree (with protein and fiber!…well some of the fiber was probably in the chickpea skins but still).


RECIPE:

IMPOSSIBLY CREAMY HUMMUS:

1 can of chickpeas
1/4 cup tahini
2 lemons, juiced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/4 cup ice cold water
1/4 cup plain fat free greek yogurt
salt to taste
good quality olive oil
Optional: cayenne pepper, paprika and parsley to top with

1. Peel the chickpeas by lightly pinching each one until the filmy layer comes off. Have a bowl filled with water nearby where you can dip your fingers in after peeling the chickpea so that the skin will easily float off in the water as they can start sticking to your fingers.
2. Once all peeled put the chickpeas in a food processor until smooth.
3. With the processor still on add in the tahini, greek yogurt, lemon juice, garlic and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
4. Lastly drizzle in the ice water. Process until very smooth.
5. Taste and if necessary add more salt (1/4 teaspoon at a time) and lemon juice.
6. Transfer to the container you want to serve out of, top with cayenne/paprika/parsley if desired and then generously drizzle with olive oil to finish.

Pita Chip with Hummus

Pita Chip with Hummus

This was loosely based on this lovely Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi’s Basic Hummus. In this recipe they actually don’t peel the chickpeas but instead cook them from dry with baking soda. Which although is less labor intensive than the peeling takes a lot longer with soaking the chickpeas overnight and then cooking them for 20 – 40 minutes. Another big difference is that in this recipe, as in most traditional hummus recipes, there is no greek yogurt. I added in the greek yogurt to sub in for some of tahini as tahini is very caloric. One cup of tahini has 1,424 calories! So by decreasing the amount from 1/2 cup to 1/4 and subbing the rest of the volume with plain fat free greek yogurt we save 326 calories from the final product.

Tahini is ground sesame seed paste if you are not familiar with it, and despite its intense fattiness you definitely need some tahini for richness and for the flavor in the hummus. If you are going for full flavor and not particularly caring for calories go for the full tahini volume. I will say that I did not really miss it in the lightened version and the greek yogurt definitely imparts its own creaminess.

All you need are some pita chips, maybe a tabbouleh salad and definitely some pan-fried halloumi cheese and you have a fantastic Mediterranean appetizer spread…

And yes I ate the hummus before taking any of the pictures.

And yes I ate the hummus before taking any of the pictures.

FYI the final product has around 1,050 calories for the entire bowl (provided you didn’t go too crazy with the olive oil) which adds up to about 28 calories per tablespoon! It easily serves 4-6 people as an appetizer.

Azuki Sushi

Azuki Sushi is in Banker’s Hill and from the outside it’s an unassuming little house but when you walk in the inside is surprisingly nice. The decor is simple but trendy-ish with accent lighting and they project movies on one of the walls, then past a narrow corridor they actually have a large covered patio area. Oh and the sushi ain’t bad either.

Azuki Sushi

Azuki Sushi

While I love pricier sushi options like Hane Sushi (a couple blocks up the street, see a review on it here) and Sushi Ota in PB sometimes you just want yummy sushi that’s affordable. But not too affordable like the gross discount stuff filled with cream cheese they peddle at so-so places like PB Sushi or god-awful places like Yakimono’s by the Vons in UTC/La Jolla. It’s closed now but has anyone ever been there? Every underage UCSD student used to go there because they did not card at all but the sushi was SO BAD.

Anyways Azuki has turned into our go-to stop; really good sushi at good prices and great happy hour specials. They have really good traditional nigiri and sashimi as well as creative entrees and super creative (and delicious) rolls.

Azuki Sushi Rolls

Azuki Sushi Rolls

Azuki Menu

Azuki Daily Specials

Normally we come for happy hour because they have great deals on sake and beer as well as appetizers like the huge super-garlicky Garlic Edamame for $3 and their amazing Tuna Tataki with ponzu and jalapeño for $6 dollas. However this would be a great Valentine’s Day stop (HAPPY VALENTINE’S CHILDREN) because sushi in general is a much better idea than overpriced red wine, steak and chocolate lava cake dinners. We did that last year for Valentine’s and afterwards you feel like a beached whale and you just want to lie comatose on the couch and watch Netflix…which is perfectly fine every other day of our lives but perhaps not the best way to spend Valentine’s. Sushi on the other hand is sufficiently fancy and very delicious but also light and you feel great afterwards. Sprightly even.

APPETIZER: To start with we got their Root Vegetable Fries. These are super thinly cut super crispy strips of carrot, green beans, zucchini, and potatoes that are tempura-fried and served with a creamy aioli.

Root Vegetable Fries

Root Vegetable Fries

Of course we finished all the aioli before I remembered to take a picture. Yum emulsified oil and egg.

ENTREES: We’ve tried so many of their rolls and they are all awesome but a favorite is the By the Border Roll which has spicy tuna and avocado inside and seared albacore, sliced jalapeño, signature ponzu and spicy aioli on the outside.

By the Border Roll

By the Border Roll

The avocado, ponzu and jalapeño are a great way to add flavor to the tuna so that it’s a good roll for sushi neophytes who are not yet crazy about raw fish. At the same time you get a very decent serving of tuna and albacore and their fat little dot of spicy aioli makes it the perfect amount so its not one of those rolls that is swimming in mayo.

By the Border Roll

By the Border Roll

Me on the other hand, am all about the raw fish, no accoutrements necessary. I went with the Adventurous Nigiri course that comes with (from back to front, might have some mistakes): chu-toro (medium fatty tuna), saba (mackarel), sake (salmon), kanpachi (amberjack), ebi (black tiger shrimp), hamachi (yellowtail) and snow crab. The snow crab actually should have been uni but I hate uni so I asked to sub in ankimo (monkfish liver, tastes like foie gras, is awesome) but they said they couldn’t substitute that in so I left it up to the chef. I got fresh snow crab and I was pretty happy with that because it was delicious.

Adventurous Nigiri

Adventurous Nigiri

This was amazing and I love the way they do their nigiri here with only a small amount of rice and a nice huge slice of fish that drapes over both ends of the rice. I’m constantly picking out rice from rolls that have too much rice but this is never necessary here.

Perfectly Draped Sushi

Perfectly Draped Sushi

Overall it was a great dinner, as always at Azuki (alliteration). The only disappointment was that on OpenTable I mentioned it was our anniversary dinner so I was hoping for a free dessert but no one read the notes or asked if there was an occasion so no dessert for us. Our waitress misheard me when I ordered the Adventurous Nigiri and thought I ordered the Adventurous Sashimi and that was brought out then had to be sent back so I felt bad being all ‘hey its an arbitrary personal milestone for us give us a thing for free’. Nonetheless, can’t wait to be back.

CHECK:
– Root Vegetable Fries $6.95
– By the Border Roll $13.50
– Adventurous Nigiri $28.00
– TOTAL (w/ tax) $52.48

Azuki Sushi

2321 5th Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101
619.238.4760

http://www.azukisushi.com/

Amazing Banana Cashew Coconut Smoothie

I love smoothies as both delicious + filling snacks as well as convoys for healthy food that you might not want to eat by itself like spirulina, maca powder or flax seeds. This recipe handily combines both those aspects with a thick and creamy banana cashew coconut smoothie that has tons of flax seeds for healthy omega-3 oils and drinks like a milkshake.

Banana Coconut Cashew Smoothie

Banana Coconut Cashew Smoothie

This is a perfect afternoon snack; I am always starving after I get back from work and craving something sweet but at the same time don’t want to overeat and then ruin my appetite for actual dinner. This smoothie has become my go to post-work pre-dinner snack and the best part is that its only 210 calories.

Banana Coconut Cashew Smoothie

This recipe is completely vegan, gluten free, paleo and I imagine if you use raw coconut flakes and raw flax seeds it can easily be made raw too…(almond milk is raw right?)

Banana Coconut Cashew Smoothie

Banana Coconut Cashew Smoothie

Banana Coconut Cashew Smoothie

As always I like to make my smoothies with unsweetened vanilla almond milk because its super creamy, tastes amazing and is only 30 calories per cup.

Almond Milk

Almond Milk

Almond Milk

For the bananas you only need half a banana, you can use more if you want it thicker but I just save the other half for the next day’s smoothie (or to top granola with).

Bananas

Bananas

Bananas

I used raw cashews because that’s what I happened to have on hand but feel free to use toasted ones. Although for snacking I prefer toasted cashews the raw ones have a lighter, creamier taste to them thats perfect in this smoothie.

Raw Cashews

Raw Cashews

Raw Cashews

I used sweetened coconut shreds from Trader Joe’s but you can use coconut flakes as well, doesn’t matter as they are going to be blended.

Shredded Coconut

Shredded Coconut

Shredded Coconut

Lastly the flax seeds were added mostly for their omega-3 content but turns out they actually added a nice nutty, toasted flavor to the smoothie.

Flax Seeds

Flax Seeds

RECIPE:

Makes one smoothie.

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup of almond milk
1/2 banana, sliced
1 tablespoon shredded coconut
1 tablespoon raw cashews
1 tablespoon flax seeds
Sweetener to taste (I added Splenda but stevia, agave or honey would work as well)

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Add everything to a blender.
2. Blend until smooth.
3. Taste and blend more if the texture of the flax seeds is too gritty.
4. Drink up.

Banana Cashew Coconut Smoothie

Banana Cashew Coconut Smoothie

Banana Cashew Coconut Smoothie

Banana Cashew Coconut Smoothie

Although I found it unnecessary cinnamon could be a yummy addition to this smoothie or some cocoa powder too. One thing to note is that I think the vanilla flavor in the almond milk makes it so much better so if you are using plain almond milk definitely add a dash of vanilla extract in.

Banana Cashew Coconut Smoothie
Banana Cashew Coconut Smoothie

Nutella Swirl Cocoa Brownies

For a long time whenever I made brownies I would always use a boxed mix. Even though I rarely used cake mixes and love making cakes, cookies, and all kinds of other pastries from scratch with brownies it was always Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker. This wasn’t because I was particularly lazy about brownies but because in my opinion the box always tasted BETTER. Whenever I tried different brownie recipes some turned out too cakey, others too liquid-y, others didn’t have the crackly surface on top and so on. That is until I found Alice Medrich’s Cocoa Brownies Recipe.

Nutella Swirl Brownies

Nutella Swirl Brownies

Basically Alice Medrich found out that the way to create a perfect brownie in terms of texture and a crackly top is to control the amount of fat which determines the texture and the amount of sugar which creates the candy-like crackly top. So by omitting chocolate which has cocoa fat, emulsifiers and additional sugars and having only fat from butter and sugar from granulated sugar you can create a perfect brownie. The end results are super chocolatey, very fudgy and perfectly crackly every time. Whenever I make these they are a hit and the recipe adapts wonderfully to any kind of nuts/marshmallows/thingsyoumixintobrownies you want to throw in when you are in the mood for something more flamboyant than plain chocolate brownies. It’s grown up dark chocolate brownies but sweet enough that anyone will enjoy it. I have made these plain, with coconut, swirled with crunchy peanut butter, topped with white chocolate + crushed peppermint candies, and with chocolate ganache. However this iteration with fat swirls of Nutella might just be one of my favorites in terms of how easy it is to make vs. how delicious it is to eat.

Nutella

Nectar of the Gods

The best part of this recipe is that you can do it all in one pan with no need for whisks or multiple bowls. This is particularly lovely if like me you have no dishwasher. Also known as one of the downsides of living in an authentic albeit renovated 1930s style apartment…on the plus side with ceilings like this I can probably have a 13 foot Christmas tree if I do please. Note that in the original recipe you combine all the ingredients in a bowl set over a double boiler. This seemed extraneous and unnecessary and I’ve always done it in a pan over the stove and it turns out wonderful so….yeah. INGREDIENTS: ALICE MEDRICH COCOA BROWNIES WITH NUTELLA SWIRLS Makes 16 large or 25 smaller brownies 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter 1 1/4 cup sugar 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process) 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 2 cold large eggs 1/2 cup or 2.5 ounces all-purpose flour 2/3 cup of Nutella (or more if you are wild at heart) 1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides. 2. Combine butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a pan over low heat. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. 3. Turn off the heat and wait until the mixture is only warm, not hot. 4. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. 5. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring after each one. 6. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. 7. Spread evenly in the lined pan. 8. Plop somewhat evenly spaced spoonfuls of Nutella over the batter in the pan. 9. Take a knife and then swirl these into the batter. Swirl enough there is Nutella over the entire cake but make sure the little rivulets of Nutella are thick enough that you will be able to taste them. When in doubt, add more Nutella. 10. Bake until a toothpick in the center emerges only slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes. 11. Let cool completely on a rack. Cut into 16 or 25 squares. Keep in an airtight container and keep them out of the fridge, these are better served room temperature or slightly warm.

SO MANY PICTURES OF BROWNIES.

Pho Hoa

So I had never had pho until freshman year in college when I got introduced to this magical dish. I don’t know whether it really cures hangovers but I know its absolutely delicious and I love my pho tai. Even if it might be full of MSG.

There is nothing like watching those thin thin slices of rare steak cook in steaming hot beef broth with rice noodles, thinly sliced onions and herbs until the steak is mostly cooked thru but just kissed with pink in the center. At that point I add the fresh basil leaves, as much of the bean sprouts as I can (surreptitiously if I have to share my pho condiment plate with other people) and a couple slices of jalapeno. After that all I need is some hoisin and sriracha in a little side bowl to dip the slices of steak in. Ok that was a lot of steps but still. SO GOOD.

Pho Tai

Pho Tai. All IPhone Pictures Here Btw. My bad.

I’ve only eaten at a couple pho places in San Diego and so far I find them all good. I probably don’t know enough and haven’t had enough pho to be a good critic of it. I like the pho at Phuong Trang, Pho T Cali and Pho 5th Avenue. Pho La Jolla less so, partly because of the high prices and partly because even I could have guessed pho in La Jolla would not be super legit. But I was excited to try Pho Hoa in City Heights. A lot of people swear by it and its really well-reviewed on Yelp. All they do is pho too so one would think if they are still around they must be doing something right.

See Only Pho.

See, Only Pho.

Overall the verdict was this was pretty good but not amazing. Broth was a little oilier than I’m used to but had a decent beef flavor, noodles were a wee bit clumpy but there was a generous meat portion. However, and take this with a grain of salt as I mentioned before I am by no means a pho expert, I didn’t think it was leaps and bounds better than the pho I have at Pho Fifth Avenue or Phuong Trang.

Pho Condiments

Pho Condiments

I do like that they give you ngo sai (the hidden saw-toothed leaf thats peaking out from underneath the basil in the picture above and that I initially thought was a rogue weed that made it onto the plate) as I had never tried it before. I also pretty much like all herbs and often ate the herb garnishes off peoples plates as a child like a rabbit. So more/new herbs is always a good thing for me. Service was also very efficient, they take your order and set down the pho condiments plate and literally 5 minutes later our food was in front of us. The restaurant is definitely bare bones but decently sized.

We ordered the Pho Tai, which are thin slices of rare steak. Weirdly it seemed like some of the steak slices had a pearly sheen to them. No idea what this was and although it must be some kind of connective tissue there was no chewiness or detectable taste besides the steak. Steak was a little tough and could definitely have been more tender, but it was nice to have a lot of beef.

Pho Tai with Bean Sprouts, Basil and Jalapenos

Pho Tai with Bean Sprouts, Basil and Jalapenos

We also ordered the Pho Bo Vien which is beef meatballs. This was ok too but the meatballs could have been more moist. My dining companion was Vietnamese and she said the meat balls her mom buys have (I think) tendon in them so they are yummier/less dry. She also shared my opinion that the pho was good but not worth the drive there.

Pho Bo Vien

Pho Bo Vien

Lastly, I also ordered Che Ba Mau or tri-colored dessert (or three colored dessert? not sure). It comes in a cup with crushed ice which I thought was quite nice. You have the green jellies at the bottom, sweet red beans, and jackfruit; all covered with coconut milk sweetened with condensed milk and a sweet red syrup at the bottom. This was great except I don’t love the sweet red beans, I mostly just stir it up and eat the jellies with the sweetened coconut milk. Definitely melted a little (and ok I ate a lot of it) before I got around to taking the picture, trust me it was much prettier before I mixed everything/it melted.

Three Color Dessert

Three Color Dessert / Che Ba Mau

DSC_0239

DSC_0242

So the final verdict is solid pho but not out-of-this-world pho that is worth driving all the way to City Heights for. Fast service and low prices but in the end I’ll probably just keep going to Pho Fifth Avenue or Phuong Trang which are closer and have other good food options besides pho. Mostly those delicious charred beef rice paper roll things from Phuong Trang. Yum.

CHECK:

Pho Tai $6.50
Pho Bo Vien $7.50
Che Ba Mau $3.00
TOTAL (w/ tax) $18.36

Pho Hoa

4717 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, CA 92115
(619) 283-6431

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Healthy & Delicious Chocolate Pudding Multi-Grain Oatmeal

Whenever I think of porridge I think of something bland and beige, the sort of thing that only people in prison and old time-y kids in Charles Dickens novels eat. This all changed after seeing this amazing post “To Talk Porridge” from Megan Gordon at A Sweet Spoonful. This porridge was not bland; it was topped with cranberries, coconut, and almonds; and it was not beige (well not entirely anyways), it was swirled with deep red and tinged with pink. And multi-grain oatmeal guys, is really just code for porridge. It just sounds nicer than the word ‘porridge’.

DSC_0243

Taking inspiration from that post I came up with a yummy and very chocolate-y multi-grain porridge that is essentially like eating chocolate pudding for breakfast…chocolate pudding that is dairy free, refined sugar free, egg free and has 358 calories, 4.5 grams of fiber, 5.7 grams of protein and is full of healthy coconut fats and omega-3. If you switch the grains too you could definitely make this gluten-free.

Chocolate Pudding Oatmeal

Chocolate Pudding Oatmeal

Although I’ve always liked the idea of oatmeal I never really liked hot oatmeal itself. It was sort of gluey and too one note. I think porridge, or maybe this porridge, solves that issue by using more than one grain for texture, so its more “toothsome” (stealing this word from A Sweet Spoonful’s post as I thought it was very evocative of what I was going for…). Naturally I started with rolled oats but for texture variation I added farro and spelt. Using a variety of grains also makes it healthier, adding in different nutrients, fiber and protein (depending on the grains you go for). I also added some chia seeds at the end which not only possess the uncanny power of transforming anything into “pudding” (look it up) but are also rich in omega-3. In order to reduce cooking time I used Trader Joe’s 10-Minute Farro and for the spelt I’m pretty sure I just used regular spelt even though the cooking time for spelt is supposed to be quite long…but it was still fine with 10 minutes.

Chocolate Pudding Oatmeal

For the liquid in the porridge I went with unsweetened vanilla almond milk, which is very low in calories but still adds creaminess. And after ensuring this was healthy to make it delicious I added cocoa powder, dark chocolate, coconut flakes and pistachios. To make it sweet you have a lot of options; brown sugar, honey or agave would be nice but in trying to stay healthy I used coconut sugar sweetened with stevia. My mom gave me this stuff because she abhors my Splenda habit (sorry Mum) and on its own or in a drink I think the Stevia taste is too pronounced but in something like this it blends in very well with no detectable aftertaste….must be all that chocolate🙂

Chocolate Pudding Oatmeal

Chocolate Pudding Oatmeal

In order to avoid gluey oatmeal I followed the tips that Megan gave out on her post including to toast the oats first, only add the oats when the liquid is boiling and to avoid stirring the mixture while it cooks.

Oatmeal, Farro & Spelt

Oatmeal, Farro & Spelt

BASIC MULTI-GRAIN OATMEAL

Serves 2

INGREDIENTS:
– 1/4 cup rolled oats (76 calories, 2 grams fiber, 2.75 grams protein)
– 1/8 cup Trader Joe’s 10-Minute Farro (80 calories, 1.5 grams fiber, 3.5 grams protein)
– 1/8 cup spelt (73.5 calories, 2.4 grams fiber, 3.1 grams protein)
– 1/2 tablespoon coconut oil (58.5 calories)
– 2 cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk (60 calories, 2 grams fiber, 2 grams protein)

1. Heat a pan on medium heat and add the coconut oil when hot. Toss the oatmeal, farro and spelt in and toast in the coconut oil until they start to smell toasty. This also helps reduce cooking time.
2. Meanwhile, heat a pan with 1.5 cups of almond milk and bring that to a boil.
3. Add the toasted grains to the boiling almond milk, lower heat to simmer, cover and cook for 8 minutes.

CHOCOLATE PUDDING MULTI-GRAIN OATMEAL

– 3 tablespoons cocoa powder (36 calories)
– 2 tablespoons coconut sugar with stevia (96 calories)
– 2 squares dark chocolate (100 calories)
– 2 tablespoons chia seeds (136 calories, 1.4 grams protein)
– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Once you have your basic multi-grain oatmeal cooked for 8 minutes, uncover the mixture.
4. Add in the the cocoa powder, coconut sugar, dark chocolate, chia seeds and remaining 1/2 cup of almond milk. You can add more or less almond milk depending on how thick you want your porridge. Stir minimally to combine, taste for doneness/add more sweetener if necessary then let cook for another 1-2 minutes.
5. Remove from heat, add in the vanilla extract, stir, add toppings and serve.

Grains

Grains

Coconut Oil and Coconut Sugar with Stevia

Coconut Oil and Coconut Sugar with Stevia

Cocoa and Dark Chocolate

Cocoa and Dark Chocolate

Chocolate Pudding Multi-Grain Oatmeal Pre-Toppings

Chocolate Pudding Multi-Grain Oatmeal Pre-Toppings

Now for the toppings. This is honestly perfectly fine by itself but some toppings really go that extra mile with making it feel like a dessert. I went with coconut flakes and pistachios.

Chocolate Pudding Oatmeal Post-Toppings

Chocolate Pudding Oatmeal Post-Toppings

Toppings

Toppings

But you could also go with fresh berries, dried apricots and almonds, fresh bananas with a peanut butter swirl (or PB2 if you’re conserving calories, see this post.), or anything you think pairs well with chocolate. Perhaps more chocolate.

DSC_0245

Another route you can go if you are not craving a simpler or fresher final product is to omit the chocolate and then add cinnamon and fresh fruit. This option also saves you 58 calories per serving so that your final product will be closer to 300 calories per serving.

Vanilla, Cinnamon & Berry Multi-Grain Oatmeal

Vanilla, Cinnamon & Berry Multi-Grain Oatmeal

VANILLA, CINNAMON & BERRY MULTI-GRAIN OATMEAL

– 2 tablespoons coconut sugar with stevia (96 calories)
– 2 tablespoons chia seeds (136 calories, 1.4 grams protein)
– 1 teaspoon cinnamon
– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
– fresh or frozen berries

1. Once you have your basic multi-grain oatmeal cooked for 8 minutes, uncover.
4. Add in the coconut sugar, chia seeds, cinnamon and remaining 1/2 cup of almond milk. You can add more or less almond milk depending on how thick you want your porridge. Stir minimally to combine, taste for doneness/add more sweetener if necessary then let cook for another 1-2 minutes.
5. Remove from heat, add in the vanilla extract, stir, add toppings and serve.
6. If you are using fresh berries, slice over top and if you are using frozen microwave/heat until defrosted and juicy then pour it over the top of your oatmeal. Normally I will always choose fresh berries but in this case the ones that were frozen will be soft and bleeding berry juice that mixes into the oatmeal. “Bleeding” is a poor word choice here but you know what I mean. I’m all for it.

Vanilla Cinnamon Multi-Grain Oatmeal Pre-Topping

Vanilla Cinnamon Multi-Grain Oatmeal Pre-Topping

Post-Topping

Post-Topping

Added almonds and pumpkin seeds too btw.

Added almonds and pumpkin seeds too btw.

This version is also completely vegan. The chocolate pudding version is most likely vegan as well but I think that depends on the veganness of your dark chocolate. Mine was just regular Trader Joe’s dark chocolate so I believe it probably did have milk solids albeit a very small amount of them.

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TIPS:
– Substitute other grains, I think wheat berries would be soooo good in this because of their chewy texture.
– Depending on how soft or how textured you want this vary the ratio of grains (more oatmeal will make it softer) or cook it for more or less time.
– You could even use different grains to make this gluten-free; amaranth, quinoa, millet, sorghum, rice and some kinds of oats are gluten-free. Just make sure you adjust the cooking times accordingly for the grains you use.
– So many toppings would be good with these. I really want to make the chocolate one again and add PB2 to it for peanut butter flavor then top with sliced bananas and a little swirl of real peanut butter. For the chocolate-free one I think some cinnamon baked almonds and pears with pecans would make it amazing. Or lots of coconut and a few chocolate chips if you only want a hint of chocolate.
– As I mentioned before the chocolate-free one is vegan and the chocolate pudding version is most likely 99.9% vegan depending on how vegan the dark chocolate you use is.

Eleven Madison Park

We had been planning an epic meal at a three Michelin star restaurant in NY for ages and after much debating and perusing on ramblingsandgamblings.blogspot.com who apparently dines at these establishments on the reg we decided on Eleven Madison Park. Seriously though if you want to look at thorough reviews of NY restaurants this is a great blog, this guy eats everrrryywhereee.

Eleven Madison Park

Eleven Madison Park

Although Per Se is more well-known, it was more expensive with fewer courses and a lot of the more interesting or ‘fancy’ courses like the foie gras, the caviar and the Japanese Wagyu are supplements. And not $20 dollar supplements, $40-100 dollar supplements which on top of a $310 price tag (albeit service included) is a little hefty. Le Bernardin is too seafood focused for us, Daniel did not impress as much and Brooklyn Fare is impossible to get a reservation at + a little too molecular gastronomy-esque for us. So EMP it was. Plus we hear there’s smoke and magic tricks at EMP and we are easily swayed by such trickery.

EMP is unique too in that there is not a set menu (although naturally they do have their stand by dishes) and you can tell them what you like and don’t like so that you won’t be eating any courses that you dislike. For me that was no offal except for foie gras and for my sister it was no shellfish. Included all the courses from both our meals (mine first and my sisters second) as they could be pretty different. Note that there might be mistakes in identifying all the components of each plate as this meal was from a couple months ago but I think it should be generally correct.

First Course:

Black and White Savoury Cookies

Black and White Savoury Cookies and Iphone 4. Kidding, who even has an Iphone 4 anymore (I do).

A nod to black & white cookies being a NY staple these were a savoury cheddar version that came with apple and the black tint from vegetable ash. Pretty tasty and I love pairing cheese and fruit. I heard the old version was parmesan and truffle though which might have been even better.

Second Course:

Oyster with Champagne Vinegar Granita

Oyster with Champagne Vinegar Granita

Goat Cheese Pannacotta with Rhubarb Gelee

Goat Cheese Pannacotta with Rhubarb Gelee

Both of these were great. Cannot for the life of me remember what made my granita so purple. And although I love oysters I tried some of the panna cotta and together with the rhubarb have to admit it was a very nice contrast of creamy with slightly tart.

Third Course:

Sweet Shrimp with Uni Cream

Sweet Shrimp with Uni Cream

Beet Salad with Goat Cheese

Beet Salad with Goat Cheese

The sweet shrimp came coated in panko and their mild flavor was really enhanced with the super savoury uni cream and the herb foam on the plate. I just cannot get into uni when it comes to large quantities of it but as a slight flavor addition it works very well, especially if its contrasted with something more herbal or acidic. The beets were all prepared perfectly and always go nicely with goat cheese. Thought my shrimp dish was a lot more exciting though🙂

Fourth Course:

Sturgeon Sabayon with Chive Oil

Sturgeon Sabayon with Chive Oil

Same for both of us. We were really concerned this was going to be overly fishy but it was SO GOOD. So creamy and the chive oil at the bottom makes this taste unbelievable. Really nice combination of flavours that initially I did not think I was going to love. One of my favorites.

Fifth Course:

Smoked Sturgeon Course

Smoked Sturgeon Course



Same for both of us as well. If you are like me you got super excited at that fat tin of caviar. However sorry to disappoint, although it is a very decent caviar portion, it is only one layer and beneath that its all cream cheese. The bread is thinly sliced and crisp and you can eat the sturgeon on the crisp with cream cheese and caviar or with the quail egg salad. Or all together like I did. Pickles were also quite nice but nothing out of this world. Sadly no pictures of them removing the glass dome filled with smoke over the sturgeon.

Sixth Course:

Parker House Rolls

Parker House Rolls

Venison Butter and Vermont Butter

Venison Fat Butter and Vermont Butter

For the meat courses you can pick a lavender duck or the venison, we went with the venison so venison fat was mixed into the butter for our Bread and Butter course. So GOOD. I wish you could buy this at the grocery store because beef-fat butter is amazing on everything. THe bread is also divine. I’m not a huge fan of puff pastry or croissants but this had the perfect balance of real bread chew and flakiness.

Seventh Course:

Seared Foie Gras

Seared Foie Gras

Foie Gras Torchon

Foie Gras Torchon

You also get to choose how your foie gras is prepared, for the sake of diversity I chose seared and my sister chose torchon. Loved the torchon with the crisps and the fruits on the plate, I have a hard time eating foie gras torchon without some bread or acidic fruit to contrast how rich it is. Did not think I would love the seared preparation as much but the sauce with it was incredible.

Eighth Course:

Carrot Tartare

Carrot Tartare

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As soon as the guy brought the grinder to the table we said we could not wait for the carrot tartare. He was kind of disappointed and said it was supposed to be a surprise. I think I’ve known about the carrot tartare for a long time but that might be due to frequenting an enormous roster of food sites on a regular basis. Sorry guy. Anyways this came with so many toppings; a quail egg yolk, bonito flakes, mustard seed, smoked sturgeon, sunflower seeds, chives, etc. Mixed everything in just because it was there. You eat it with bread and it was definitely an interesting flavour. I liked it but ultimately thought it was more interesting than surprisingly tasty, unlike the sturgeon sabayon.

Ninth Course:

Lobster with Brussel Sprouts

Lobster with Brussel Sprouts

Poached Fish

Poached Fish

The lobster course was naturally very tasty and I was eyeing the bland fish my sister got with pity. However after one bite of it my opinion completely changed. This fish (does anyone know what kind of fish it was? Cannot remember and it was so amazing) was probably my favorite course of the entire meal. The texture, the taste and the sauce were unreal. Very sad I cannot remember what was the name of the stupid fish:/

Tenth Course:

Butternut Squash Course

Butternut Squash Course

Same for both us. As it was fall this was supposed to evoke Thanksgiving. The butternut squash was prepared different ways and also came with cranberry compote and pumpkin seeds. This was lovely and a nice nod to the season.

Eleventh Course:

Venison Course

Venison Course


The venison loin they cook is first brought out to you then taken back to the kitchen. What comes to your table is a perfectly cooked venison loin and a skewer with different parts of venison, including a venison sausage, and a shallot. This was all lovely except for the grayish item on the skewer. Not sure what it was but it was definitely some kind of organ I have no love for. Very creamy, grainy texture and offal-y taste. Blergh. This is obviously a personal preference and if you are an offal-positive person I’m sure it was perfectly executed and whatnot. The venison loin was impossibly perfectly cooked although I wish there were more fatty elements on the plate to offset how lean venison is. In the past when this was a beef course you also got beef consomme and a course with braised oxtail with potato foam and foie gras. Wish there had been something comparable for the venison course!

Twelfth Course:

Picnic Course

Picnic Course

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This was also one of my favorite courses, the picnic basket is dropped off at your table and then you unwrap it. It comes with pretzel bread, cheese, grapes, an incredible violet mustard and a bottle of German apple cider. Everything was really good and paired together wonderfully. On ramblingsandgamblings they had charcuterie too but this was not in our basket. Clearly looking at all those EMP posts made me want things I would not have known to miss had I not seen them in the other posts…

Thirteenth Course:

Malt Egg Cream

Malt Egg Cream

Egg cream with vanilla and seltzer. Have always been wary of trying these as the concept of a carbonated egg mixture is somewhat ambiguous in my mind. This was excellent though, very very vanilla-y. It also tasted very reminiscent of something we’d had in our childhood but could not figure out what it was.

Fourteenth Course:

Creme Brulee Tart with Sorbet

Creme Brulee Tart with Sorbet

So so so good. Sometimes desserts with too many elements can be a little too many things but everything here played well together and was expertly prepared on its own right. I am not a big creme brulee person as I do not like clunky rock-hard layers of caramelized sugar on my custards but this one had the thinnest crackle of caramelized sugar and I finally understood why one paired so well with the other. The tart was very rich and it was nicely offset by all the other lighter elements on the plate.

Fifteenth Course:

Magic

Magic

Squash Cheesecake

Squash Cheesecake

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Lemon Chocolate

Lemon Chocolate

Although you can’t tell from the first picture, this is the card magic trick they do. You get your dessert course and after picking two random cards from the shuffled cards, ta-da! You lift off your plate and underneath is a chocolate flavored like the card you picked. We got orange and lemon and I was a little sad considering all the other more exciting flavors (passion fruit i love you), but they were surprisingly really really good. The squash cheesecake was interesting but ultimately I do not love squash with sweet elements so this was not my favorite. I blame that on particularly gross cloyingly sweet and overly creamy cafeteria butternut squash soup I had in college once but unfortunately the distaste stuck with me.

Sixteenth Course:

Black and White Cookies

Black and White Cookies

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Chocolate Pretzel

And here we are full circle with sweet black & white cookies. Very Lion King. The pretzel is actually made up of ground pretzels that are mixed with white chocolate and then reconstituted into pretzel form and dipped into chocolate and sea salt…Very Inception.

Breakfast for the Next Day:

EMP Granola
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Once you are done they give you an adorable little bag with a personalized mason jar filled with EMP granola. This was pretty great stuff with lots of dried peaches, pumpkin seeds and all kinds of other stuff. Loved this nice touch at the end of the meal.

Overall this was a pricey experience we thought was completely worth it. It’s a 3-4 hour ordeal. Possibly less if you eat as fast as us but that’s pretty questionable. Pretty sure we ruined the surprises for everyone considering we were always 2 courses ahead of everyone. Our bad. The service was phenomenal, a perfect mix of the professional formality required at that level of restaurant but still very friendly and fun. You get different people presenting the dishes and they are the ones who made the dish which we thought was really cool. And although there were people ordering wine pairings or bottles of Champagne our servers were perfectly fine with us just sippin’ on tap water.

Our biggest regret was not asking for the kitchen tour which takes you inside the kitchen (provided they are not too busy) and where they usually prepare you a cool drink. Next time🙂

CHECK:
$225 per person x 2
TOTAL (w/ tax, service not included): $495.00

Eleven Madison Park

11 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10010
(212) 889-0905

http://elevenmadisonpark.com/

Little Italy Farmer’s Market – San Diego

If you have never been to some of the great farmer’s markets in San Diego you are missing out on some great produce and tasty food. Two of my favorites are the Little Italy Farmer’s Market on Saturday’s and the Hillcrest Farmer’s Market on Sunday. The Little Italy one is more geared towards produce and buying ingredients whereas the Hillcrest one is better for grabbing a bite, with anything from Russian pierogi to Brazilian empanadas or Jamaican jerk chicken. Hillcrest Farmer’s Market pictures on a next post but here are some pictures from the Little Italy Farmer’s Market.

Little Italy Farmer's Market

Little Italy Farmer’s Market

The main thing you have naturally is a lot of produce for sale. Unless you are super pressed for time I recommend you browsing through the entire market first before buying any produce. Prices vary a lot as well as how nice the produce looks. We bought a bunch of carrots from one vendor and four stalls down they had a prettier bunch for half the price. Also note that although you are at a farmer’s market not everything is necessarily organic and local, many stands have signs saying they are or are not and you can always inquire the vendor if that is what you are after.

Eggplant

Eggplant

Squash

Squash

Carrots

Carrots

Most of the vendors also offer tasters so you can try some of the produce before you buy it, its always nice to try all the different kinds of apples, a new kind of avocado or some fruit you’ve never had before. Farmer’s markets are also pretty much the only place in the universe you can get a perfectly ripe avocado to use the very day you purchased. This is nothing short of magical in my book.

The Cravory

These guys are almost at every farmer’s market in SD, including the Little Italy, Hillcrest and La Jolla ones. They offer a rotating wide variety of cookies. These are a little pricey at $2.00 each but they are soft, plump, chewy mounds of cookie that never disappoint. You can try any/as many of the flavors before buying as well. I personally love the Lemon Bar cookie as well as the Almond Joyous. They always have some nice seasonal flavors too, in this case they had some great holiday flavors like Peppermint Schnapps and Caramel Eggnog.

The Cravory

The Cravory

Bread & Cie

Bread & Cie is also at most of the farmer’s markets and they offer a wide variety of yummy bread. If you are not sure what to buy definitely just ask them for recommendations and based on what you like you can try something new that might appeal to you as well. This time we got some great focaccia and the tasty dark chocolate thing you see in the last picture. It was brioche dough rolled with large chunks of melted dark chocolate and that thing was gone in a day. Rich and chocolate but not overly sweet I cannot wait to buy it again. We also got a brioche like chocolate bread studded with cherries and dark chocolate chunks. Due to the shape we thought it was panettone so we were a little disappointed with the brioche bread which is drier than a panettone but it made the best chocolate bread pudding in the world. Oh and the Fig & Anise bread is lovely too.

Bread & Cie

Bread & Cie


Amazing dark chocolate brioche roll

Amazing dark chocolate brioche roll

Saranya

Saranya sells fantastic Thai food and the stand has done so well that they have even opened a real brick and mortar restaurant! Their curries are really good and they also sell the curry sauces frozen so you can make your own with whatever meat/veggies you want at home. I always, always stop here and get an order of the coconut pancakes. These are small little pancakes made out of coconut milk and rice flour, they are chewy, slightly sweet, very coconut-y and cost I think $1.60 for 4 pancakes. No pictures because we ate them in 2 seconds. Saranya also has the best sticky rice with mango in the world. Or at least that I have tried. Better than anything I’ve had in Thailand even…

Saranya Stick Rice with Mango

Saranya Sticky Rice with Mango

Their rice is perfectly cooked and they drizzle a sweetened coconut milk on it. Every time I’ve gotten it the mangos are also ridiculously and perfectly ripe. Ask for extra coconut milk on top and you are golden. SO SO GOOD.

And to finish I have to post of a picture of this little guy that was hanging out at the Little Italy Farmer’s Market the week before Christmas:

Much Christmas. So Santa.

Much Christmas. So Santa.

Little Italy Farmer’s Market

W. Date & India Streets
Saturday – 8am to 2pm

http://www.littleitalysd.com/mercato/

Davanti Enoteca – Little Italy

I’ve been a huge fan of Davanti Enoteca since the first time I went so its about time I had a post on them. Davanti is fantastic for dinner but this post is on brunch which it turns out is pretty great too. We came here on a Saturday morning post-Little Italy’s farmer’s market and there were plenty of tables. Always nice to not wait 45 min+ for brunch.

Davanti Enoteca

Davanti Enoteca

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There are two appetizers that you absolutely must start with, and luckily they are available for brunch. These are the focaccia di Recco a Ligurian style baked focaccia filled with soft cow cheese (add the honeycomb option) or the vasi with ricotta and honeycomb. Not both at the same time mind you because they are quite similar but one time order one and the next time the other. I personally prefer the vasi but most people I know like the focaccia di Recco better.

Davanti Lunch Menu

Davanti Lunch Menu

Davanti Brunch Menu

Davanti Brunch Menu

We went with the vasi with ricotta and honeycomb this time. You get grilled Pugliese bread with a whiff of truffle oil, a jar of impossible creamy and rich ricotta with sea salt and olive oil, and a wedge of honeycomb.

Vasi with Ricotta and Honeycomb

Vasi with Ricotta and Honeycomb

Ricotta

Ricotta

Grilled Pugliese Bread

Grilled Pugliese Bread

The combination of the toasty warm bread with cool creamy ricotta and sweet honeycomb is completely addictive. I do not know how they get their ricotta so smooth and creamy, I’ve tried both whipping it and blending it at home to obtain the same effect and sadly have not yet matched this texture. I suppose for $8 I can just keep coming here to get my fix for the real thing.

Grilled Pugliese bread with ricotta and honeycomb

Grilled Pugliese bread with ricotta and honeycomb

This is a large appetizer for two people, you get a lot of ricotta and they will gladly give you more bread if you run out, which we normally do🙂

Next we ordered their salad with escarole + gala apple + pecorino dolce + celery + hazelnuts. It is a simple fresh salad and its also a sizeable portion. Simple and tasty with a basic olive oil dressing this is a light salad that has interesting texture and taste with the slightly bitter escarole contrasting with sweet cubes of gala apple, nutty toasted hazelnuts, crunchy celery and salty pecorino. Even though I am an avid meat eater I would not mind having this salad as an entree even though it also makes a mighty fine side salad when you are ordering pizza as your main dish.

Love that even though the toppings might look scarce on top when you mix up the salad there are plenty of all the other components so as to ensure that you’re not just eating fistfuls of escarole like a rabbit.

Escarole Insalata

Escarole Insalata

Escarole Insalata

Escarole Insalata

So for the actual brunch dish we ordered we went with the Prosciutto e Uovo Il Pane which comes with toasted tuscan bread with prosciutto, fontina, parmesan cheese, sunny side eggs on top and roasted tomatoes on the side.

Prosciutto e Uovo Il Pane

Prosciutto e Uovo Il Pane

Prosciutto e Uovo Il Pane

Prosciutto e Uovo Il Pane

This was amazing and the portion was large enough that we split it between two people and still had leftovers (ok we also ate all that other food before too but I maintain its split-able). The prosciutto is super crispy and the cheese is nicely melted into the toast. Mix it together with the runny fried eggs (make sure to request them more cooked if runny is not your thing) and the juicy roasted tomatoes and you have a perfect bite.

Prosciutto e Uovo Il Pane

Prosciutto e Uovo Il Pane

Also appreciated the pesto on the roasted tomatoes as pesto makes almost everything better.

Roasted Tomatoes

Roasted Tomatoes

Prosciutto e Uovo Il Pane

Prosciutto e Uovo Il Pane

Overall had a lovely and very reasonably priced meal with fantastic service to boot. Our waiter was friendly, super attentive, and even offered to take our picture before we asked, most likely because it was hard to ignore my fat Nikon intrusively sitting on the table for the duration of the entire meal. It was also about 75 degrees and sunny so sitting on the patio was quite nice. Although I suppose I have to attribute that part to the amazingness that is San Diego in December.

Davanti Patio

Davanti Patio

Loved their Christmas decorations too.

CHECK:
– Vasi with Ricotta and Honeycomb $8
– Insalata with escarole $7
– Prosciutto e Uovo Il Pane $10
TOTAL (w/ tax): $27.00

Davanti Enoteca – Little Italy

1655 India St, San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 237-9606

www.davantienoteca.com/