Friday, May 20, 2011

True Food Kitchen: A Stomach's Best Friend

Who would have thought that one of my new favorite restaurants would be in a mall?  Santa Monica Place, the completely new, gutted and remolded replacement for the old mall at the start of the 3rd Street promenade is a far more upscale experience than it previously was.  High fashion stores, lots of bling, and much better restaurants.

I was fortunate enough to dine at one of these restaurants before it opened and let me just tell you- get there, get there fast!  Also, so you know, my meal was complimentary, but that in no way colors my judgement of the restaurant.  If I didn't enjoy my meal, you would not be hearing about it folks.

True Food Kitchen's concept was born from Dr. Andrew Weil, my new favorite culinary hero.  Why is he such a cool guy?  He's based his menu on the principle that food should be a nutritious, healthy, and an anti-inflammatory experience.  "According to Dr. Weil: 'Following an anti-inflammatory diet can help counteract the chronic inflammation that is a root cause of many serious diseases, including those that become more frequent as people age. It is a way of selecting and preparing foods based on science that can help people achieve and maintain optimum health over their lifetime.'" (from the TFK website)

Personally, these are principles I take very seriously being an allergic & gluten-free eater living a healthy lifestyle.  Eating out at True Food Kitchen makes dining an enjoyable experience, even for the most sensitive of us.  I suspect that this has something to do with the extremely extensive training program that the staff was required to go through in order to work there.  My unendingly helpful server, Gary, explained that all staff went through a couple of weeks (not hours, not days) but weeks of training.  They learned all about food allergies, intolerances and food related diseases like Celiac, veganism, vegetarianism, food preparation, safety practices and so much more.  Gary knew the answer to all of my questions instantly, and that's never happened in a regular restaurant before.

I started my meal with a Cucumber Refresher drink.  It's a mixture of fresh cucumber & honey lemonade, all fresh from their fresh juice bar.  Though I chose a pre-suggested drink from the menu, diners can make up their own juice combinations that delight them.  The drink was very refreshing, a little sweet and very cucumbery!  It was a nice way to wake my palate up before the meal.

As a starter, I ordered the soup of the day, Immunity Soup.  This soup featured an ingredient I'd never heard of- astragules root- which when eaten regularly can help protect the body from stress, diabetes, and even cancers.  All I was thinking about was how delicious it was!  The root was complemented by an earthy, umami happy broth, mushrooms, broccoli, and carrot coins.  The soup was very warming; the perfect remedy for any sick day. 

I debated what I should choose as my main course.  You see, the menu offers many, many Gluten Free choices, including pizzas.  There were so many choices (which never happens when you go out) that I had to ask for the staff's advice.  The several people who checked on me during my seating were all asked what their favorite meal was.  Although each agreed they liked almost all the dishes, most raved particularly about the Panang Curry.  Now, I have never been a huge curry fan, but how can that many people be wrong?

When the curry arrived, piping hot, the scent I breathed in was simply intoxicating.  My first bite was foodgasmic.  Did the chef sprinkle angel tears on this bad boy?  I didn't want to speak.  I didn't want to drink.  I just wanted to eat this curry, possibly forever. 

 tell me that isn't gorgeous

The curry which sat in a creamy coconut broth could have very easily been too rich.  But everything about it was perfectly balanced:  spicy yet smooth, rich yet not too thick, perfectly sized vegetables to meat ratio.  The brown rice buried below the broth was not soggy, instead absolutely perfect consistency.  How'd they do that?!  The rich coating of the curry would slide off my tongue and a touch of sizzle would linger politely on it to remind me that I wanted more.  This is a curry you dream about.  True Food Kitchen, I am now a curry convert.

When I had to choose a dessert, I was still mourning my empty bowl of curry.  Could I do that course again?  No, no.  I had to be practical and move on.  I looked at the dessert menu; again, several choices for the GF and Vegan eater.

I chose a very simple, light finish, a Low-Fat Lemon Ginger Frozen Yogurt, made fresh on premises.  I'm such a whore for ginger, and the delicious and subtle fresh flavors of the yogurt adorned with blueberries was really the perfect ending to a perfect meal.

Now what was the best part.   Was it the food?  The friendly staff?  The modern and clean atmosphere?  Well all of that was great, but my favorite part is that I can go back to True Food Kitchen and try several other combinations of dishes over and over again because the menu is riddled with GF friendly fare!  I don't feel trapped in a box at True Food Kitchen, and although I ate quite a substantial meal, I didn't feel gross when I left.  I felt very full, but not heavy.  I felt satisfied and clean, and my stomach did not hurt.  I ate curry and had no stomach ache?  Points again for you, True Food Kitchen.

When you visit the now open True Food Kitchen (and if you live in LA or near other locations, you really should,) you are likely to find me sitting at a table there, devouring whatever delicious delicacy I can. 

True Food Kitchen (395 Santa Monica Place, Suite 172, Santa Monica, CA 90401, 310-593-8300)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Grown Folks Bakesale & Lemon Meringue Cookies

I've just returned from traveling some more and with mixer in hand(s) I was ready to start preparing my treat for today's Food Blogger Bakesale, raising money for the amazing organization Share Our Strength that dedicates itself to ending childhood hunger.  SOS does amazing work, and I encourage you to either add them to your yearly donation list or volunteer to help in any way you can.

One of their fundraisers, the Great American Bakesale, translated last year to a local Food Blogger Bakesale in Los Angeles with others all over the country.  Hopefully lots of hungry people will join us today, May 14th at 11:30a-2p at BLD restaurant (7450 Beverly Boulevard Los Angeles, CA 90036.)

Last year I made some almost allergy-free apple muffins.  They were delicious, but not a big seller compared to the delicious dripping goodies.  It's hard to compete at a bakesale with a healthy product that scares some non-allergics.  I thought I would try to appeal a little more to the masses this year by going in a completely different direction: Lemon Meringue Cookies.

Meringues happen to be one of my specialties (probably because they're not so hard) and I think they're a nice fat free palate cleansing opportunity next to the brownies.  Fingers crossed people like them!  Will you like them enough to make them at home?  I would.  The bright lemon flavor really meshes well with the sugary goodness of a meringue and adds a subtle back bite.  And really, what's a better marriage than lemon & meringue?

I started with my basic recipe and went from there.  Remember meringues are easy, but they are for the patient!  Read my previous post before embarking so you can see why drying is an important step.

Lemon Meringue Cookies

Makes loads of cookies, half if desired

4 large egg whites
1 tbs of fresh squeezed lemon juice
splash of vanilla (or 1 tsp if you're measuring)
a dash of salt (or about 1/4 tsp if you're measuring)
1 1/3 cups evaporated cane sugar (fairtrade if you can)
the zest of 1 medium sized lemon

Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a large bowl, beat the first 4 ingredients together using an electric mixer on low-medium speed, until you reach a foamy, barely soft peak form.
Pour sugar in slowly while beating the mixture until the sugar is incorporated.
Beat carefully on medium-high until you get stiff peaks (if you remove the beater from the mixture you'll notice a peak that can stand on it's own).  Go slower than faster.  If you over-beat, the meringue will not come together.
Fold in lemon zest.
Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Either put meringue in pastry bag and pipe a million cookies OR use a tsp dropping cookies.  Note: the smaller your cookies the less time they take to dry, and this becomes easier & faster for you.
Place cookies in oven on low and middle racks and immediately switch oven temperature to 200 F for 1 hour.
To make sure your oven is at an average temperature (and not a higher heat oven) watch your cookies (10, 15, 25 minute marks) and the second you see any golden goodness appearing or if you touch them and the cookies feel like they're firming, turn the oven back up to a high temperature for a moment, close the oven door, then SHUT OFF the oven.
If you've piped small cookies, dry for 1 hour with the oven door shut and test.
If it's ready take them out, if not, turn oven on to 250 for about 5 minutes (watching the cookies) and then shut oven off and dry for another hour.
Repeat drying as many hours as needed.

Meringues really are a delicious treat and they keep well so use leftover to decorate desserts or pack in bagged lunches.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Getting Campy

Picture it: Angelus Oaks, 2011.  90 of the most gorgeous food bloggers you ever laid your eyes on deep in the mountains, all tweeting, blogging, and gabbing about food.

gorgeous right?

Where do I even begin?  So much was packed into Camp Blogaway: panels on everything from vlogging to building a community to the pressures of blogging.  Breakout sessions designed to answer everyone's burning blogging questions.  Did I learn a lot at Camp Blogaway?  Yes.  Did I learn a lot at Camp Blogaway that also has nothing to do with blogging?  Yes.

I was always a little scared to go to camp when I was younger.  I was never the instantly popular kid, or the beautiful girl, or even the brainiac.  Mostly I was just the awkwardly inappropriate loud kid, and that doesn't always earn you friends.  Plus, other kids don't always understand your "sense of humor" and think you're weird.  

But when you have the fortunate opportunity of being surrounded by adults of all ages, from all walks of life whom all share a common interest, a magical thing happens.  You feel in your element.  You also feel like you belong to a community of pretty interesting people.  I appreciate meeting different bloggers at these retreats and conferences; this is perhaps always my favorite part.  

Also, I think that some 10 year-old part of me always gets nervous in big social situations, especially surrounding the subject of food.  I'm always worried that people will view me differently because of my diet restrictions and limitations.  Food is a very social animal.  Will I stand out as the freak of the crowd?

The one universal thing that always happens is that I learn intimate details about people and their loved ones upon meeting them.  I think that people feel they can share with me because when I introduce myself, I'm laying all my medical food issues bare.  I learn within seconds of Mr., Mrs. or Child X in their life who too faces food/medical difficulties.  We are not alone out there.  And I am not a freak.  (Some of you who know me may still argue I'm a bit of a freak, but we can agree it's for different reasons other than this.)

Connecting with others is the main reason I began blogging.  And attending a wonderful weekend like Camp Blogaway is the ultimate way to connect.  When you reach out over the internet to other bloggers, you form online friendships.  But what if you had the opportunity to make those real in-person friendships too?  I think Camp Blogaway invites you to find this out while improving your food blogging knowledge.

Aside from all the warm & fuzzy people meeting I was doing, I enjoyed particular highlights of the weekend, and I will tell you why:

Presentation by the California Avocado Commission 
  • I'm a bit of a whore for avocados, and in my opinion the only avocados worth eating come from California.
  • I learned a lot about the avocado's life, from conception to fruiting.
  • Tips and tricks regarding ripening and serving the fruit were flying left and right.
  • They gave us beautiful avocados to take home; I'm making ice cream with them!

Presentation on Cake Decorating by Wilton
  • People would probably assume that because I'm GF that I don't like cake decorating, they'd be wrong.  I freaking love it.
  • My table doing the decorating was AWESOME!  I can only imagine we were the table that other tables at camp wished they could be.
  • The presenters, Nancy & Gretchen, were extremely helpful in teaching decorating techniques to a room full of chatty food bloggers, some of whom avoid baking and decorating like the plague.
  • We didn't decorate on actual cakes, so I felt comfortable participating.  (Side note: Wilton edible products are not labeled as GF; I hope one day they will be.  Until then, I will look forward to continuing to use their baker's tools.)

The Panel on Building a Blogging Community
  • I know that everybody is always stressing about their scores & numbers, but let's remember we're blogging for people out there.
  • It was refreshing to go to a Blogger Conference and hear from bloggers like Cheryl at 5 Second Rule and Susan at Food Blogga talking about connection rather than just dollar signs.
Needless to say, the staff was quite friendly and organized (Big shot out to Patti-pictured right-at Worth the Whisk), the kitchen always had plenty of food for me to eat that was GF, and my roommates were pretty awesome.  Wente Vineyards also provided all the wine for the weekend, and Andrew, their ambassador was well loved by all.

So if you feel like getting away into the mountains, with good food, good company and good learnin' sign up to go to Camp Blogaway next year.  And remember, they're GF, vegan, vegetarian AND allergic friendly.

 See?  Look at that gorgeous plate of GF pasta and veggies.