Sunday, December 22, 2013

Crossroads Los Angeles

Crossroads has been a hot spot in Los Angeles since the initial rumors.  It all started a couple years ago with talk of Ellen Degeneres and Portia de Rossi opening a vegan restaurant on Ventura Boulevard with superstar vegan chef Tal Ronnen and part of the team behind the former Ohio restaurant, Vegiterranean.  Those plans evolved into Chef Tal opening the chic West Hollywood Crossroads location this past March.      

Excited to try the newest vegan restaurant in town, I went on opening night to sit at the bar and was turned away.  The hostess explained there was house seating only that night and no reservations available.  The next week, after calling first, I went back for my first taste.  With the bartender's help, I chose the Artichoke Oysters (artichoke puree, crispy oyster mushroom, yellow tomato bearnaise, and kelp caviar) and a gourmet take on biscuits and gravy that I don't see on the current dinner menu.  The oyster dish was delicate and unique, different for me because I've never tried the omnivore counterpart.  The biscuits and gravy was a sophisticated take on the hearty, comfort food dish, with savory, perfectly-prepared mushrooms covering foccaccia-like bread.  Such a treat.
The main reason I'd been so eager to try Crossroads, though, was the Kite Hill Cheese Plate.  The Kite Hill Cheese Plate that was not being served that night.  And so, despite my wonderful meal, I left feeling a bit disappointed that I hadn't tried this much-raved-about delicacy.
A few months later, I sent an e-mail to Kite Hill asking when the almond-and-macadamia-based cheeses would be available at the Whole Foods locations in LA.  Without a set date yet, they offered to send me samples, which I gratefully accepted.  And then I received another e-mail from Kite Hill asking if, instead of receiving samples in the mail, I'd like to meet Chef Tal at Crossroads for a special tasting, just the two of us.  Yes. 
There was something very special about being allowed into the restaurant in the morning, many hours before it opened for dinner service.  The front of the house was vacant except for Executive Chef Scot Jones who was quietly working on his laptop at the bar.  Despite this calm, it was clear that the Crossroads kitchen had been buzzing with activity since long before I arrived.
Chef Scot cheerfully told me about the sunny lunch room that opened in July, serving weekday lunch with a menu of upscale sandwiches featuring the Kite Hill cheese.  These are the kind of sandwiches you'd expect to find at a bistro in France.  Perhaps you'd take said sandwich to the edge of the Seine to eat while watching the river flow.  The lunch room itself has a glass ceiling that bathes the room in light and opens to bring in fresh air.  It feels like a great place to have a lunch date.
It turned out that Chef Tal had an emergency to attend to that morning and Master Pastry Chef Serafina Magnussen kindly sat down with me to talk about the cheeses instead.  She and Chef Tal have been working together for 8 years, having met while she was in culinary school.  If you read Chef Tal's cookbook, The Conscious Cook, you'll find that Chef Serafina penned the dessert section.  My eyes grew wide when she told me she'd created a vegan croissant (these are available during lunch service) and was working on variations, including pain au chocolat.  I wonder if I could convince her to create a vegan angel food cake...
The Kite Hill cheeses I was treated to were:  Cassucio, Cassucio with truffle and dill, and White Alder, served with freshly-fired raisin walnut bread.  Chef Serafina described the Cassucio as a soft, fresh cheese akin to young goat cheese and the White Alder as an aged cheese with a rind, similar to Camembert and Brie.  Their textures were similar to each other and actually to firm silken tofu, able to be broken apart with a fork, marks from the tines left behind in the remaining wedge.  With sophisticated notes like truffle, these are special occasion cheeses to be served as part of a lovingly-plated cheese, cracker, and fruit assortment.  That's exactly how they are served at Crossroads.  
It's clear that the Kite Hill cheeses have been a labor of love for the team made up of Chef Tal, a French fromagier, a food scientist, and a mechanical engineer, each of whom are dedicated to authenticity and innovation.  They tasted 27 varietals of almonds during the recipe formulation!  With this level of devotion to quality, these are cheeses to be savored. 
An evening not too long after, I recruited a dear friend to join me for Crossroads DineLA menu.  A city-wide event that happens a couple times a year, participating restaurants offer a multi-course meal for a fraction of its normal price.  We selected from two choices for each course, with my choices being the Pee Wee Potato Salad (haricot vert, baby arugula, toasted pine nuts, whole grain mustard, and tarragon vinaigrette), the most delectable okra dish imaginable called Wood Roasted Okra (okra, calabrese peppers, Marcona almonds, pickled ramps, Spanish sherry vinegar, and flaked sea salt), Scaloppini Picatta, which is one of Chef Tal's most famous creations, and a Chocolate Ganache Tartlet topped with spicy caramel popcorn.  My dining companion and I ordered the same dishes with the exception of the entree.  Hers was Pappardelle Bolognese with a beautifully-balanced sauce.  If I hadn't been thoroughly enjoying my Picatta, I would have wished I had an entire portion for myself!  What a delicious, thoughtful, and visually-stunning meal. 

After all this impeccable Crossroads cuisine, I realized I'd never made a recipe from my autograhed copy of The Conscious Cook.  I pored over the book and settled on the Whole Wheat Penne with San Marzano Tomatoes.  It was a dish that I easily made on a work night and yet it yielded complex, rich results.  I need to spend more time cooking from this book.

Fortunately for all of us, some of the Crossroads recipes are available online, demonstrated by the chefs themselves.  Chef Tal's website features several recipe videos.  Chefs Scot and Serafina have appeared on a local LA news show with summer recipes, Chef Scot shared the recipe for Scaloppini with Marsala Glazed Morels on the same news show and taught how to make Scaloppini au Poivre on Queen Latifah's show this fall.  These three are beautifully representing vegan food in the mainstream media.

Crossroads is offering two prix fixe options on New Year's Eve for those who are fortunate enough to enjoy that experience.  I've heard that the Thanksgiving meal was incredible and the New Year's Eve menu looks phenomenal.  In February and March, the restaurant will be hosting Sunday Suppers featuring guest chefs, and I imagine much more excitement is being planned for 2014.  I can't wait to see what's next for this dedicated team.

Thank you so much, Chef Tal, Chef Scot, Chef Serafina, and Kite Hill. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Viva La Vegan Grocery

A couple Saturdays ago, Your Vegan Mom, her two sons, and I made the much-longer-than-necessary-due-to-horrible-traffic trek to Rancho Cucamonga, complete with frequent "When will we get there?" queries from the back seat.  One might wonder why we would drive so far east of Los Angeles and it's an excellent question.  It just so happens that, nestled in this suburb where not much else exists of interest other than the minor league baseball team the Cucamonga Quakes, lies the only all-vegan grocery store anywhere remotely near Los Angeles.  Viva La Vegan has been open for a year or two and neither YVM nor I had visited yet.

Our first order of business when we finally arrived after 6 pm was to get food and a beverage for the boys.  They settled on mac and cheese, raspberry limeade, Let's Do Organic gummi bears, and a precious taste of a rare vegan and gluten-free macaron by Feel Good Desserts (bonus, it's a local LA company!).  The little restaurant inside the store had closed early in order to prepare for their weekly Sunday brunch, but the chef was kind enough to heat the mac and cheese for us.  I enjoyed my bite and the boys eagerly devoured the rest.  The jury was out on the gummi bears with the older declaring them too sweet, while the younger asked for everyone's leftovers.  The highlight was the tiny taste of macaron we each had, while YVM explained that they are rare and precious and meant to be savored.

After the boys' bellies were full, we were off to explore the shelves, intent on finding what isn't readily available to us at our stores in LA.  I brought home several varieties of vegan cheese by Heidi Ho Organics, Parma, and Parmela, butterscotch chips and rainbow sprinkles, JJ's Cocomels, BBQ seitan in a ready-to-go refrigerated container, a lunch-size bag of Beanfields nacho chips (I was intrigued after seeing these show up in the blog accounts of this year's Vida Vegan Con gift bags, plantain chips, hot sauce, and, of course, those rare and precious macarons.  We also found Soy Curls, Beyond Meat in serious $30+ bulk packages, frozen pizzas with various toppings, corn dogs, date caramel sauce, two brands of donuts, more Hurraw varieties than I knew existed, as well as all the Crazy Rumors options, multiple types of vegan bacon, and a beautiful produce section.  

A bit of back story on macarons and our attachment to them:  YVM and I first met while living in Toulouse, France for our junior year abroad.  We were part of a circle of friends who had monthly dinners that rotated between our apartments.  YVM was already vegetarian.  I was almost there, but didn't make the full transition for another year after leaving France.  Macarons weren't at the forefront back then or I probably would have tried one of the monochromatic and beautiful treats.  Then, a year or so ago, I bought a French vegan baking cookbook and YVM and I set to the task of making macarons at her house.  The recipe was a total dud and, even though Hannah published a recipe in Vegan Desserts that is likely perfect, neither one of us has attempted it yet.  Hence, the holy grail-type status of these lovely vegan and gluten-free macarons from Viva La Vegan.  I bought my own box and slowly savored them for a week or so.   
While perusing the aisles, we ran into one of the owners of Viva La Vegan and I stopped to chat with him to get the scoop on the store.  I asked why he chose Rancho Cucamonga, of all places, and he replied that he had the space (which is huge) and figured that if he could make it work there, he could certainly make it work in LA.  Which leads me to the news that he is in the process of opening the first store (he says of several) in the Venice/Culver City-adjacent area of LA in about three months.  The Rancho Cucamonga store carries 6000 items and the LA store is slated to carry 7000.  I was quite relieved to hear this considering that this store is 50 miles from my home.  It was also helpful to know I didn't need to buy absolutely everything I wanted because I'll have a chance in a few months to shop in LA.  This is going to make a lot of LA vegans very happy.  As YVM said, Viva La Vegan, indeed!     

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Maddy's Sweet & Savory

Los Angeles has long been awaiting the opening of Maddy's Sweet & Savory on Pico Blvd. in Century City.  Years ago, Chef David Anderson and his incredible business partner wife Molly drastically scaled back the hours of their fine dining restaurant, Madeleine Bistro, to the point that it's essentially closed in order to create this new gelateria.  I have been especially excited because Maddy's is right down the street from my office, making it the closest vegan restaurant option during work days. 

Maddy's has been intermittently open for special tasting days since Mother's Day, but today marked the beginning of their first full week being officially open.  The early tasting days offered take-away items and Chef David's dreamy gelato in a multitude of classic and innovative flavors including mint chocolate chip, cheesecake, bananas foster, vanilla bean, amaretto, and almond brownie fudge.  Chef David creates the gelato using several different bases: soy, almond, and soon-to-be coconut, all of which are creamy and rich.

On my first tasting day visit, I chose scoops of peanut butter chunk and pistachio. 

I stayed several hours past closing, catching up with Chef David and Molly, whom I've known for about 8 years since they first opened Madeleine Bistro.  They generously sent me home with a take-away Eggless Tofu Salad Sandwich (mayo, lettuce, and tomato), crudite with house-made ranch dressing, and cranberry almond scones.  These are great options for a quick lunch on the go and afternoon snacks, each perfectly delicious in their comfort food simplicity. 

On my second visit, Maddy's was open on a Friday, testing their fresh-pressed panini sandwiches.  I popped in on my lunch break to order this warm, slightly spicy, sauce-dripping Cajun Caesar Panini (blackened seitan, caesar dressing, lettuce, and tomato), which I ate at one of the reclaimed wood tables.  Chef David chatted with those of us in the cafe while he made our panini to order.  The intimate, mom-and-pop way that Chef David and Molly run their restaurants is what has always brought me in again and again.  I feel like we're family when I'm there.   

Of course, I couldn't pass up a small cup of gelato.  This time, I ordered peanut butter chunk (again because it's so good!) and chocolate-cream cheese walnut.  The latter being a deep chocolate gelato with profound hints of caramel that made this creation an instant favorite.  (The book in the background is the beautifully-written, intelligent, and fun On Celestial Music by Rick Moody.)

Now that Maddy's is truly open for business, their hours are noon to 8 daily (closed Mondays).  They will have a constantly changing, rotating menu of made-to-order panini, tossed salads, take-away sandwiches, salads, artisanal cheeses, sides, pastries, made-to-order organic juices, iced coffee, kids' beverages, and a myriad of heavenly gelato flavors.  It's a wonderful place to grab lunch in the middle of the work day or to have dinner before or after seeing a movie at the Landmark theatre directly across the street.  Century City has been in desperate need of a vegan restaurant and I'm thrilled to have delicious, lovingly-prepared food right down the street.

Maddy's Sweet & Savory
10893 W. Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90064
(310) 446-1965

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Vegan Hawaiian Fried Rice

One of the items on my to-do list this weekend was choosing a new RSS reader since Google Reader will be permanently disabled as of July 1.  Quick research revealed this article and I chose Feedly.  The best part of Feedly that I've noticed so far is that I simply logged on with my Google account info and all of my subscriptions showed up; I didn't have to transfer my subscriptions one-by-one as I'd feared.  I'm seeing one downside, which is that the reader is an app and I doubt I'll be able to download the app on my work computer.  [ETA:  I had no trouble with Feedly at work.]  Otherwise, I'm very happy with Feedly's features and layout.

Do any of you remember Veggie Life magazine?  It was a vegetarian quarterly that ceased publication many years ago, which leads me to believe it's acceptable to publish this Hawaiian Fried Rice recipe from the Summer 2002 issue.  I used to make this recipe very often, but I haven't made it in years.  It's the only recipe I tore out when I donated all of my back issues.

Original recipe:

2/3 cup sliced mushrooms
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 large carrot, shredded
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup canola oil
1/3 cup vegetarian soy ham, finely diced
6 cups cooked white or brown rice
3 to 4 green onions, sliced
5 teaspoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons vegetarian chicken-flavored seasoning

1.  In a large skillet or wok over high heat, stir-fry mushrooms, celery, carrot, and onion in oil (or vegetable broth) until tender, about 3 minutes.
2.  Add veggie ham and stir-fry 1 minute.  Add green onions, soy sauce, and seasoning.  Stir-fry until hot, about 4 minutes.  [My note:  Fold in the rice until thoroughly combined.]

My version:

2 ribs celery, chopped
1 cup shredded carrot
2 small zucchini, shredded [I don't normally include zucchini, but I had a ton in the fridge]
1 package Lightlife Smart Deli Baked Ham Style, cut in a small dice
6 cups cooked brown rice
2-3 T soy sauce (to taste)
2 T vegan chicken-flavored broth powder [mine is from the Whole Foods bulk bin]

1.  In a dutch oven or wok over medium heat, stir-fry celery, carrot, and zucchini until tender, about 5 minutes.
2.  Meanwhile, in a separate non-stick skillet over medium heat, cook the vegan ham until slightly crispy.
3.  Add the rice to the veggies and stir to combine.  Then, add the soy sauce and broth powder and stir, making sure the seasonings are evenly distributed.  Finally, add the vegan ham and stir once more to combine.  Heat through and serve.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mothers' Day

Happy Mothers' Day!  I always move the apostrophe after the "s" because this is a day celebrating all mothers (including Mother Earth) and not just one.  My own mother prefers to celebrate the day before so as to avoid restaurant crowds and we brunched yesterday with my brother, my 9-month-old niece, and my cousin.  This is my sister-in-law's first official Mothers' Day.

One of my favorite vegan cookbook authors, Dreena Burton, happens to be the mother of three vibrant, hockey-playing daughters in Canada.  She has written a number of blog posts about parenting and her cookbook, Vive le Vegan, features an entire section on the subject of feeding vegan babies and toddlers.  In fact, each of her five cookbooks are full of delicious, healthful recipes that are also mindful of picky children's palates.  So it seemed appropriate to share her new eBook today.

Plant-Powered 15 is a collection of oil-free recipes of the weekday variety, including breakfast foods, salad dressings, pasta, burgers, easy desserts, and the above Black Bean Soup with Sweet Potatoes (photograph by Nicole Axworthy).  Dreena was kind enough to offer the recipe to my readers.  May this soup be a nourishing meal for you and those you love.

Black Bean Soup with Sweet Potatoes

This soup has an irresistible quality, the flavors are deep and earthy with some
sweetness from the potatoes. Don’t let the number of ingredients intimidate you - they
build layers of flavor, but this soup is not at all difficult to make!

1-2 tbsp water
1 1/2 - 1 3/4 cups chopped onions (one large onion)
1 1/2 cups combination of chopped red peppers and green peppers
1 1/4 tsp sea salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste (generous is good)
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp dried oregano leaves
1/4 tsp allspice (rounded)
1/4 tsp (or less/more, to taste) red pepper flakes
4 medium-large cloves garlic, minced or grated
4 1/2 - 5 cups black beans (reserve 1 cup; this is three 14 or 15 oz cans)
3 cups water
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 - 1 tsp pure maple syrup
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 cups cubed (in small chunks, about 1/2”) yellow sweet potato (or can substitute
white potato)
Chopped cilantro for serving
Extra lime wedges for serving
Chopped avocado tossed with lemon juice and dash of salt, for serving

In a large pot over medium-high heat, add water, onions, red and green peppers, salt
and pepper, cumin seeds, oregano, allspice, and red pepper flakes. Let cook for 5-
7 minutes until onions and peppers start to soften. Add garlic. Cover, reduce heat
to medium, and let cook another few minutes to soften garlic - if sticking/burning,
add another splash of water. After a few minutes of cooking, add 3 1/2 cups beans
(reserving one cup of beans), water, tomato paste, vinegar, lime juice, and maple syrup
(start with 1/2 tsp). Using an immersion blender, puree soup until fairly smooth. Increase
heat to bring to boil, add bay leaf and diced sweet potatoes, then once at boil reduce
and let simmer for 20-30 minutes. Add remaining cup of black beans and extra maple
syrup if desired (taste test). Stir through, let simmer for another few minutes, then serve,
topping with cilantro if desired and with lime wedges. Also delicious to top soup with

some chopped seasoned avocado or a simple guacamole. Serves 4-5 as main course.

Sweet Potato Tip: Sometimes I have leftover sweet potato home fries that have been
seasoned with just sea salt. If so, I take a recipe and chopping shortcut and simply add
these to my soup during the last 5-10 minutes of cooking, just to heat through.

Recipe from “Plant-Powered 15” by Dreena Burton. For more recipes and information,

Photo credit: Nicole Axworthy

Sunday, March 17, 2013


A couple weeks ago, I received two boxes of snacks within days of each other.  The first was the February snack box from Vegan Cuts.  What's cool about this snack box is it's a random sampling of items from the Vegan Cuts store and all these items are available in larger sizes directly from them.  What a great opportunity to support a vegan business!  

Of everything in the box, the Dang toasted coconut chips were my absolute favorite.  They're crispy and not too sweet, almost identical in flavor to the bags of roasted coconut chips available at Trader Joe's.  The lentil chips were mildly salted with good texture.  I liked the Surf Sweets watermelon and cherry fruity hearts; it reminded me of eating candy as a kid.  The raw mint chocolate was very rich and very dark and the delicious Sjaak's chocolate heart had a cherry-filled center.  I wasn't a fan of the BudiFree Star Chai bar, which tasted strongly of the chocolate liqueur in the ingredient list.  The Pure Fit Peanut Butter Toffee Crunch protein bar tasted good, but had a bit of a chalky feel to it.  It was a nice touch to include a Merry Hempsters lip balm and three flavors of these cool Serengeti tea sticks.  There was also a code to access a package of cooking classes free of charge.  

All in all, this was such a fun care package to receive!  I admit that I was secretly hoping one of the awesome Simply Straws Mason Jar Gift Sets would be included, but really I was quite happy with all of the great products I got to try and I would recommend signing up for the snack box for the sheer joy of seeing what's included!   

Earth Balance also sent me a few of their new snacks, which are available at Whole Foods.  The Vegan Aged White Cheddar Flavor Popcorn and Vegan Aged White Cheddar Flavor Puffs had the same salty, tangy flavor, but different textures.  The Puffs had a texture similar to how I'd imagine big Cheetos would be.  P.B. Popps are a sweet treat akin to Cracker Jack if Cracker Jack were coated in a peanut butter oat mixture.  These Earth Balance snacks would be great to set out in bowls at a party or to take on a road trip or to a sports event. 

Saturday, January 26, 2013


With the incredibly unfortunate prevalence of companies testing on animals, those of us committed to purchasing cruelty-free products need to be on the look-out for companies who share that commitment and focus on high quality.  LUSH is an ethical company that only uses vegetarian ingredients and clearly marks its vegan products (all photos below are from the LUSH website).  I was inspired by this part of their mission statement:

We believe in making effective products from fresh, organic* fruit and vegetables, the finest essential oils and safe synthetics.  [* We also believe words like fresh and organic have honest meaning beyond marketing.]
We invent our own products and fragrances. We make them fresh by hand using little or no preservative or packaging, using only vegetarian ingredients, and tell you when they were made.
We believe in buying ingredients only from companies that do not commission tests on animals and in testing our products on humans.

When it comes to my beauty routine, I'm very natural.  The only make-up I wear is mascara and a touch of highlighter around my eyes.  Nothing else.  That's even fairly new for me, as I didn't start wearing those until a couple years ago.  I was thrilled when LUSH finally started selling mascara and, even better, that it's one of their vegan products, only contains one preservative (as opposed to most mascaras which contain 4-5), and has wheatgrass as an active ingredient!

This mascara is a nice, dark black and goes on smoothly despite the teeny, tiny application wand, which is shorter than my thumb.  That took a little time to get used to, but it's worth it for a vegan, low-preservative mascara that looks good, feels good, and lasts.  Speaking of the single preservative formula, you must toss this mascara after three months or it can cause skin irritation around the eyes.  I have very sensitive skin and I learned this first hand.  I can't imagine using another mascara now that I have access to this one.

LUSH's new highlighter is made from oatmeal, cocoa butter, almond and jojoba oils.  It's creamy and simply reflects light rather than providing color.  Also, considering how little I use, there is a lot in this small jar and it will last a long time.

I tried their Dreamwash, a thick, paste-like body wash made of soothing botanical ingredients.  I have eczema, so I have to use products that are appropriate for my sensitive skin and this one is full of aloe, lavender, rose, tea tree, calamine, and chamomile.  It's not effective for all-day freshness, but it's a lovely body wash to use at the end of the day in the bath.
I loved their Dream Cream, also formulated for sensitive skin with oat milk, lavender, chamomile, cocoa butter, and olive oil.  I went through this jar very quickly and used every last drop.  It was perfect for my skin, absorbed easily, had a gentle scent, and kept me feeling moisturized all day. 

If LUSH's products fit in your budget, it's a great company to support.  I know I'll be back in a couple months to for a new mascara.