Monthly Archives: February 2014

Doctor Vegan’s Superfood Muffins

Doctor Vegan's latest concoction, full of flavor AND nutrition!

Doctor Vegan’s latest concoction, full of flavor AND nutrition!

I am not a fan of oatmeal. There, I said it. I know that oatmeal is super healthy, and is supposed to be the perfect breakfast because it fills you up and provides you with fuel for the day. But I just. Can’t. Do it. The soupy, heavy texture is just not appealing to me, even with an assortment of fruity or nutty toppings. Oatmeal just seems to sit in my stomach and make me feel like a lump for hours. No thanks.

Oats, on the other hand, I absolutely love! Oats in granola, oats in pancakes, oats in cookies, and especially oats in muffins. I could eat a hearty oat-filled muffin every day of my life for breakfast (or lunch, or dinner). If you’ve read my review of Rising Hearts Bakery, you would have learned that while some of their desserts and breads really tickled my fancy, the apple oat muffin left a lot to be desired. It was cakey, overly sweet, and lacking in any real substance.

Muffins are NOT cupcakes. If I want a sweet dessert-like baked good, I’m going for the cupcake, not a muffin. Likewise, when I want a satiating, tasty, and nutritious baked good, I’m going for the muffin. Unfortunately, its rare to find a great tasting AND nutritious muffin at stores or bakeries. Typically I make my own.

Today I want to share with you my latest homemade muffin creation, the Superfood Muffin. Superfoods are foods that pack a huge nutrient punch (especially omega 3’s), and are good to incorporate into your regular diet. Berries, nuts, seeds (like hemp and chia), etc. are examples. In this recipe, I include avocado, chia seed, and goji berries, plus healthy flours, oats, and dark chocolate.

Some of the ingredients used in the Superfood muffin recipe. I try to buy organic and fair-trade as much as possible. The next step is to reduce plastic-packaged foods.

Some of the ingredients used in my Superfood muffin recipe. I try to buy organic and fair-trade as much as possible. My next goal is to reduce plastic-packaged foods. One step at a time!

I generally search for vegan muffin recipes online, then adapt them based on the ingredients I want to use or have at hand. The recipe below is adapted from Healthy Green Kitchen, but I’ve put my own spin on this already healthy recipe. I’ve exchanged one of the bananas with an avocado, blended a few flours and sugars, and thrown in some tasty add-ins.

I know a lot of people who are scared to play with recipes and change out ingredients. I am here to tell you to Go For It! There is no one right way to bake a muffin! If you like how it tastes, you’ve succeeded. Even if your muffins aren’t the best ever, at least you’ve experimented and tried something new. I change nearly every recipe I try, because I like to blend various healthy ingredients and see what happens once they get in the oven.

The recipe below resulted in superbly moist, hearty (but not too heavy), rich muffins that are slightly sweet but definitely not a dessert muffin. You can add or reduce the amount of sweetener depending on your preference (you can also try brown rice syrup, or a bit of molasses), play with different flours, and add in various additional ingredients, such as shredded cinnamon, coconut, dried, fruit, berries, chocolate chips, or nuts to perk up the flavor in various ways. If you avoid gluten, you could use almond and oat flours, or if you prefer more ‘classic’ muffins use wheat (preferably whole-grain) or spelt flours—I like to blend! GF flours tend to make for more crumbly muffins, so do a Google search for suggestions on how to blend. Almond flour is fairly versatile, whereas coconut flour is very dense and sucks moisture.

When making your own muffins, or any at-home food, I highly suggest investing in as many organic and fair-trade ingredients as you can. You will end up with healthier meals and be supporting more sustainable food practices. You can now find organic flours and sugars at most grocery stores and online, as well as organic coconut oil, nuts, chocolate, etc. Happy Baking!

Superfood mufins (minus 2 that were eaten immediately after leaving the oven).

Superfood muffins (minus 2 that were eaten immediately after leaving the oven!).

Doctor Vegan’s Superfood Muffins

*1 ½ cups flour (I used ½ cup almond flour, ½ millet flour, and ½ spelt flour)

*1/3 to 1/2 cups oats

*1 teaspoon baking soda

*1 teaspoon baking powder

*1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (I use Himalayan sea salt for added health benefits)

*2 medium bananas, mashed

*1 ripe avocado, mashed

*1/4 cup maple syrup (Grade B has the most beneficial nutrients)

*1/4 cup coconut sugar, or to taste

*1 tablespoon ground flax seeds mixed with 3 tablespoons water

*1/4 cup coconut oil

*Optional (but recommended!): ½ cup chocolate chips (or chop up good quality vegan dark chocolate), and/or dried fruit, and/or nuts (I used chocolate, goji berries, chia seeds, and walnuts)

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Rub a standard muffin tin with melted coconut oil or spray (Trader Joe’s has coconut oil spray).

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

3. In a large bowl, combine bananas, avocado sugars, flax and water mixture, and melted coconut oil. Fold the flour mixture into the banana mixture, and mix until smooth. Fold in oats and other add-ins, if using.

4. Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool slightly before removing from the pan. Makes 8-10 muffins (I like to ‘over’ fill my muffin tins so I made 8 good sized muffins).

Enjoy! 🙂

Pho the Love of Vegan

9021Pho does vegan right

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I had driven by 9021Pho a number of times in Westlake Village, each time wondering whether it was worth a stop (or whether there would be vegan options available). Then one night my dad mentioned a pho craving and asked if I wanted to try the place out. I can’t believe I waited so long!

Once you get passed the cheesy name, there is a lot to like about this place. Not only does 9021Pho have a variety of vegan options, but they also have a nice variety of full leaf teas (love!) which one can partake of during their daily tea AND alcohol happy hour. The white tea, which I tried on my first visit, has a natural sweetness and delicate flavor, making it my favorite so far. The tea is served in lovely glass pots over a candle to keep the tea warm throughout your meal.

Happy hour, 9021Pho style!

Happy hour, 9021Pho style!

The ambiance of 9021Pho is like an upscale noodle bar and café. Classic jazzy music (another of my faves) permeates and sets a mood of upbeat relaxation. As I turned each page on the menu I grew more excited by the options. First, with the appetizers: we tried the vegan crispy spring rolls and vegan postickers. Each comes with a dipping sauce–a sweet chili sauce for the spring rolls, and a rich hoisin and tamarind type sauce for the pot stickers. Both were great, but I’d have to say the pot stickers, with their unique filling of pureed yucca and mushrooms, won me over. You can also order the vegan sampler, which comes with both of the above plus crispy mock chicken.

9021pho

Vietnamese pho–vegan style!

For my entrée I of course tried the vegan pho, called Pho Chay. This generously sized soup was filled with fresh vegetables, including bok choy, mushrooms, baby corn, and carrots, plus tofu. But what really won me over was the vegetable broth. I am used to most veggie broths tasting pretty much the same, so I was blown away by the complexity and lightness of this version. There was a slight sweetness, a distinct freshness (enhanced by the fresh lime and basil served on the side), and wonderful complement of flavors that I wish I could identify in this soup. It was love at first Pho. (Sorry, had to do it). The best part was that the serving was so large I had plenty to take home for leftovers, which were just as good—if not better—than the night of.

Dessert was coconut sorbet, and despite usually avoiding sugar I couldn’t resist. It was rich and filled with tantalizing chunks of coconut, and best of all it was served in a half coconut shell! The mango sorbet was served in half a mango skin. Nice touch. I appreciate attention to detail and presentation, especially when the taste lives up to the look. However, if you are trying to avoid processed sugar, I would say stay away from the dessert menu.

I can’t speak for the meat options at this restaurant, but I will vouch for the tastiness of the vegan options. I’ve seen yelp reviews about 9021pho that complain it isn’t ‘authentic’ Vietnamese. To me, if something tastes wonderful and healthy, I don’t care whether it is classified as authentic anything (as long as its vegan!). Besides, who is to say what is and what is not authentic in our widely mixed cultures. The owner and head chef of 9021Pho is Vietnamese and grew up in Vietnam, so I’m guessing she knows a thing or two about Vietnamese cuisine. I for one am quite happy with her culinary interpretations.

There are other vegan options on the menu as well, including salads, curries, and noodle dishes. So far I’ve tried the tamarind tossed salad and Vietnamese Curry with vegan chicken. Both were fresh, healthy dishes with nice flavor, but just not as unique and exciting as the pho. Besides, I’m not typically a big fan of fake meat unless it is REALLY good. I’ll be sticking with the classics at this place.

In fact, I’ve been back three times since my first visit (which was only about 2 months ago). I even chose to go here for my birthday. I can tell it’s going to be one of my regular favorites, whether there is a chill in the air, a rumble in my tummy, or I know I’m going to want the leftovers the next morning—even vegan pho can be a great hangover cure…not that I know from experience. 😉

9021Pho, located in Westlake Village, Beverly Hills, Sherman Oaks, and Glendale

Pros:

* Great selection of vegan options (plus non-vegan for friends who like the more traditional meaty pho). Bonus: Noodles are gluten-free

*Very fresh and light, seems healthy without too much salt or oil

*Pleasant ambiance and friendly wait staff

*Tea happy hour!

Cons:

*May be perceived as slightly pricey as pho goes (just under $10), but you will likely have decent leftovers, and the quality/flavor of the food is worth it in my opinion.

*Not a fully vegan restaurant (for those who prefer not to eat in places that serve meat)

Conclusions:

If you love pho, or have never tried it but want to be a bit adventurous, this is the place to go! Even my Midwestern mom, who things black pepper = spicy, loved her chicken pho. A fun, casual place to grab lunch or dinner, and even to celebrate special occasions. This may not be your hole in the wall pho place, but how many of those are vegan-friendly??

Individual food item reviews:

Vegan spring rolls: These bite-sized crispy fried rolls are definitely a treat, but I was not completely won over on their flavor. I tend to be less than enthused by most deep fried foods (which I am assuming these were), even if they are vegan. A good all around crowd-pleaser, just not my favorite.

Health: 2.5 out of 5 (because fried, fake meat)

Taste: 3.5/5 (though I know others who absolutely love these)

Vegan won tons: I know these are not much healthier than fried spring rolls, but these little dumpling like won tons are boiled, so the vegetable flavor comes through in a cleaner, more satisfying way. One of my preferred appetizers!

Health: 3/5

Taste: 4/5

Pho Chay: A unique vegetable pho that packs a lot of flavor without seeming heavy or overly seasoned. A wonderful balance of freshness and warmth. Good for what ails you. Addictive!

Health: 4/5 (based on what I can gather from ingredients)

Taste: 5/5

Coconut sorbet: Creamy and smooth, with chunks of coconut and a strong, natural coconut flavor. I’m sure there is a lot of sugar in this sorbet, but it didn’t taste overly sweet—the sweetness was well balanced with the creaminess.

Health: 1/5 (I’m assuming high concentration of refined sugar)

Taste: 4/5

Tamarind tossed salad: This is a great option if you are looking for something light or to share as an appetizer. It was less exciting than expected, with mostly lettuce and a few other veggies. The dressing was decent but a bit sweet for my taste (I’m not a big fan of sweet vinaigrettes either). This would not be my first choice for a meal.

Health: 4/5

Taste: 3/5

Vietnamese Curry with fake chicken: Again, not a bad choice if you are into a more mild, light stir-fry. The curry sauce has a nice flavor but is not memorable. I did like that the curry didn’t seem overly oily or processed. Other than the fake chicken (which was tasty but not necessarily healthy) I’d say this is a fairly healthy dish, but not very memorable.

Health: 3/5

Taste: 3/5

Let doctor vegan be your guide!

Welcome to doctor vegan, the latest venture in healthy plant-based eating in L.A. Make sure to follow this blog to read the latest reviews on vegan and vegetarian restaurants, bakeries, and markets, plus receive healthy vegan recipe suggestions and the latest in food and nutrition news.

Check out the ‘Doctor Who?’ link above to learn more about me and this website. I’ve been eating at a LOT of vegan locales recently so there are many reviews in the pipeline. I hope you’ll follow me so that we can all enjoy this vegan foodie adventure together!

May the Food Be With You,

Dr. K

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Rising Hearts Bakery

Making vegans and the gluten intolerant feel warm and fuzzy in Culver City

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When you are vegan, stumbling upon a bakery that makes delectable vegan-friendly treats is as thrilling as being a kid in the Lego aisle of the toy store (ok who am I kidding…the Lego aisle is amazing at any age!). Anyway, it takes a lot for me to get excited about a bakery these days. When you are trying to eat a mostly healthy, natural, vegan diet, most bakeries are off limits; and to tell you the truth, I don’t often crave any of the super sweet, overly processed pastries and cakes that seem to make others swoon.

Still, when I learned that a gluten-free (GF), dairy-free bakery called Rising Hearts existed not five minutes from my apartment, my ears perked up. First, I did some sleuthing on their website, which confirmed that their entire bakery is free of gluten and dairy, is kosher, and that they have a tantalizing list of vegan breads and baked goods. The site lists ingredients for most products, and discusses their reasoning for choosing key ingredients. The bakery used to go by the name ‘The Sensitive Baker’, but under new ownership was re-Christened to Rising Hearts Bakery.

RIsing Hearts Bakery website provides nutrition facts for most products.

The Rsing Hearts Bakery website provides nutrition facts for most products.

I want to be upfront–I am generally weary of pre-made GF products due to their lack of nutrients and reliance on various potato and corn starches and emulsifying gums, making them fairly processed. These were indeed in the ingredient list for many Rising Heart Bakery products. Most products also contain palm oil or shortening, an ingredient that is causing a lot of controversy. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to completely avoid palm oil (unless you make absolutely ALL your own food and bath/body products) because it is ubiquitous in most processed foods and toiletries. Palm oil is much cheaper than coconut oil and therefore more cost effective for businesses. But its popularity is causing widespread destruction of virgin rainforest to make way for palm plantations (not to mention that it might contribute to increased inflammation in the body). I try to support brands that use only organic or sustainably sourced palm oil, or better yet, healthier oils like coconut, olive, or rice bran.

Rising Heart products also contain canola oil, carrageenan, and cane sugar—none of which is necessarily detrimental in small amounts, but again all are fairly ubiquitous in pre-made and processed foods, so I try to minimize how much of these I consume.

However, I was impressed with the number of ‘healthy’ ingredients that Rising Hearts tried to incorporate as well (millet, hemp milk, flax meal, oat flour, rice syrup, etc.), and their openness about how they source their ingredients—including that it is impossible to verify that some of their ingredients are GMO free. I appreciate honesty, especially when it comes to food preparation.

Then I saw the vegan  coconut oatmeal and snickerdoodle cookies, and knew I had to to give this place a shot.

Within minutes, I was dressed and heading to their Culver City location. Their store is tiny but immediately enticing. I arrived in the morning, so the smell of various baking breads permeated from the back kitchen area. I was greeted warmly by a woman from behind the counter, then left to wander as she helped a prior customer.

The refrigerated bakery case was filled with an assortment of cupcakes, dessert bars, cookie sandwiches and whoopee pies. On a tall rack against the window, I was distracted for a few minutes by the hand-made granolas, vegan cookies (with classic flavors from chocolate chip to the more exotic quinoa cranberry), and various GF/vegan bread and cookie mixes. Then, I found the freezer case—stacks of vegan muffins (apple oatmeal, sweet potato), breads (millet and oat loafs, sourdough baguettes, bagels), cakes, and more. I was paralyzed by choice!

Luckily, at this point another woman stepped out from the back to re-stock the freezer, and I asked her for recommendations. The woman turned out to be the owner, Edie Erwin. She was immediately friendly and helpful. I wanted to taste one of everything they had, but in order to minimize embarrassment (and impact on my bank account) I forced myself to narrow my choices down. I ended up choosing the apple oat muffins, a loaf of millet bread, a chocolate-banana cupcake, and a coconut oatmeal cookie sandwich with chai frosting filling (see individual reviews below). As I was paying for my bounty, Edie offered me a few slices of Rising Heart’s new vegan GF brioche. She also pointed out the bagel samples next to the register—I don’t think anyone would have been able to tell that those bagels were GF; in fact the texture and taste was richer than nearly any bagel I’ve tried, and I was half raised in Jewish delis!

Delectable vegan and GF brioche--how DO they do it??

Delectable vegan and GF brioche–how DO they do it??

I barely made it back to my car before stuffing a big chunk of brioche into my mouth, and I was not ready for the mesmerizing buttery softness that seemed to melt on my tongue. Memories of my pre-vegan days in Paris flooded back. If you aren’t familiar with brioche, it is one of those tantalizing, decadent egg and butter filled breads that for vegans is typically relegated to the ‘never again’ pile. So to experience this remarkably light, moist, just slightly sweet bread in vegan form (not to mention GF!) was a special moment. A moment all by myself, in my parked car. Somehow I managed to get the other two slices home for my housemates to try, but I admit it was difficult not to just shove them all in my mouth at once. That good, really. My opinion was reaffirmed by both my boyfriend and his non-vegan, non-GF brother.

While the muffins and bread were decent, I would say the real gems of this bakery are the fresh pastries and desserts in the front case, plus the brioche and fresh bagels. Below are my overall conclusions (so far) about Rising Heart, followed by my individual product reviews.

Rising Heart Bakery, Culvery City

Pros:

*Great selection of cupcake, cookie, and dessert varieties, including many vegan options (all are GF, dairy-free, and kosher).

*Family owned business with friendly staff

*That vegan brioche was the bomb!!

Cons:

*Many products have long-ish lists of ingredients (therefore are fairly processed), including sugar, palm oil, canola oil and potato and corn starches;

*Most products have high fat and carb to low protein ratio, so are not particularly nutritious for daily consumption

*Pricey! But the prices are to be expected at this type of specialty bakery

Recommendations:

*Reduce reliance on palm oil/shortening and processed DF milks and flours

*Increase number of organic ingredients (Breakaway Bakery is a good example of this)

*Don’t be afraid to play around with other healthy GF flours (buckwheat, more oat and millet, amaranth, etc.) for heartier baked goods

Conclusions:

Definitely worth a visit.  For those trying to minimize processed foods and/or sugar from their diets, save this bakery for a special treat now and then and for parties or get-togethers with GF and vegan friends.

Individual product reviews:

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Oatmeal coconut cookie sandwich with chai filling: Decadent, in the best way! Two gi-normous vegan cookies–dense, moist, slightly crumbly, with a rich buttery coconut taste–filled with a generous amount of lightly spiced frosting. Enough to share! Beware–this is a hefty, dense cookie concoction.

Health: 1.5 Stars out of 5

Taste: 4/5 stars

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Chocolate banana cupcake: Again, I was impressed with how moist this GF cupcake was, while still maintaining a nice light texture. The chocolate flavor was rich, and there was just the right amount of sweet and creamy banana frosting to balance the less sweet cake.

Health: 1.5 /5stars

Taste: 4.5/5 stars

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Apple oat muffin: These muffins were in the freezer case, and they come in a package of 6. On the plus side, the muffins were moist and flavorful, but they tasted more like a desert muffin to me–i.e., too sweet, not very healthy tasting. If you like cake-y muffins that remind you of Hostess, this is the muffin for you.

Health: 1.5/5 stars

Taste: 2.5/5 stars

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Millet bread: Unlike the fresh bagel and amazing brioche samples I tried, the millet bread had the much more typical GF bread texture one comes to expect with GF products. Fairly dry and crumbly when toasted, and slightly more dense than non GF bread. When microwaved the bread is more moist and rich. The flavor was above average–slightly buttery, definitely a nice light millet flavor. But a slice of this bread contains 200 mg of sodium and not much of protein, so this would not be my go to ‘healthy’ bread for toast in the morning. Next time I want to try their oat bread as it might be a better breakfast option.

Health: 2/5 stars

Taste: 3/5 stars