Category Archives: Baked goods

Take Back the Brunch: Café Gratitude makes me grateful for breakfast

Exterior of Cafe Gratitude, Venice Beach

Exterior of Cafe Gratitude, Venice Beach

Café Gratitude is probably one of the most quintessentially California ‘granola’ restaurants you can imagine—in other words, my dream come true (even if it does make me feel a bit self-righteous every time I visit). Hence, it’s not surprising you’ll find this restaurant in two locations in L.A. as well as in Berkeley and Santa Cruz—and apparently now there’s a new location in Kansas City? Didn’t expect that one. The story behind how the restaurant was originally founded and the ethics that drive its management are a worthwhile read available on their website.

The ambiance is like an upscale hippie-turned-yuppy café, with outside patio seating and inside tables, booths and community tables plus a long row of bar seating. An assortment of decadent baked goods and homemade, nutrient-dense jarred and bottled concoctions greet you from their rustic-chic displays when you walk in.

Interior of Cafe Gratitude.

Interior of Cafe Gratitude.

Patio seating.

Patio seating.

I tend to frequent the West Side locale on Rose Street in Venice Beach. The Café is nestled amongst a patchwork of other upscale shops, a yoga studio, and a juicery (yep, that’s a thing in L.A.). Everything on Café Gratitude’s menu is vegan and organic, and a lot of it is raw and/or gluten free. While the range of items might sound daunting at first to your average non-vegan–options like kelp noodles, three-grain tempeh, raw bagels with cashew cream cheese, and daikon-collard wraps–you have to trust me when I say that there is probably something on this menu to please everyone, even the stubborn omnivores out there. It definitely won over my father and his fiancé, who loved the breakfast items, especially the sweet ones.

You just have to be able to survive the hipster crowd and the artsy wait staff that leave you with a poem and a philosophical question to discuss at the table when they hand you the menus. No joke. Oh, and the menu items that are listed as Motivational ‘Intentions’ rather than descriptions of the actual meal. For example, the grilled polenta meal is called ‘I am warm-hearted’; the Indian curried lentils are ‘Humble’; and the vegetable tacos are ‘Transformed.’ Want a drink? You might go with the ‘Divine,’ or maybe the ‘Elevated’, or the ‘I am Outrageous’ for a probiotic kick. Don’t even get me started on the desserts. It’s a unique dining experience, to be sure.

A portion of the unique menu style.

A portion of the unique menu style.

It's hard not to drool wantonly when you pass by the vegan dessert case!

It’s hard not to drool wantonly when you pass by the vegan dessert case!

If you can jive with the purposeful (and perhaps slightly forced) communal all-is-love vibe that Café Gratitude strives for, your time will be well worth it. The food here is unabashedly amazing–very fresh, flavorful, healthy, and filling. Because brunch holds such a special place in my heart, that’s the focus of today’s blog. I’ll get right to the spoiler and just state flat out that the brunch items on offer rank as some of the most satisfying food I’ve tasted in L.A., and as an added bonus, are made with some of the healthiest organic ingredients as well. Double win!

I was full for about eight hours after eating here…perhaps it was that extra crepe I ordered on the side. Worth it! The prices are slightly higher than a ‘typical’ café, but in the case of Café Gratitude the price adequately reflects the quality, flavor, and portion size of the meals. I’ve definitely been to other vegan restaurants that over-charge for disappointing food—this is not one of those places. Be ‘Brave’ and try this place out for brunch. You’ll probably want to come back for dinner!

Café Gratitude, Venice Beach

Individual menu items:

WARM, aka Apple Cinnamon Muffin (gluten-free)

Muffin

Somehow, Café Gratitude has pulled off the difficult task of making healthy food taste like the classic versions you remember growing up—but better! Their muffins are no exception. This muffin melts in your mouth and has wonderful flavor and texture. You can’t tell its gluten-free or vegan. The taste is indulgent, but not overly sweet and desserty like some of the other vegan bakery muffins I’ve tasted. Thumbs up!

Health: 3.5 out of 5 (obviously this place uses pretty healthy ingredients, but I imagine the protein content is fairly low while the sugar content is higher in this item)

Taste: 5 out of 5; scrumptious!

 

OPEN-HEARTED, aka Buckwheat pancakes (gluten-free)

Buckwheat pancakes
No words are worthy. Probably the best vegan pancakes I’ve had (and its really tough to compete with Hugo’s vegan pancakes!). I love buckwheat—its hearty yet still makes fluffy pancakes, and these babies certainly had it all: light, airy texture, just slightly sweet with a nice light grain flavor, all topped with organic maple syrup, fresh fruit, and a mouth-wateringly delicious cashew whipped cream. Have I made my point? If you dig pancakes, you MUST put these in your mouth SOON.

Health: 4 out of 5 (maybe a bit lower with excessive cashew cream and/or maple syrup; otherwise, light and healthy while still hearty and satisfying)

Taste: 5 out of 5, if it wasn’t already obvious!

 

FANTASTIC, aka Crepe (gluten-free, raw)

Crepe

This raw, GF take on a classic French crepe is definitely an interesting twist. You can’t capture the same light, crisp texture of a crepe sans eggs. That said, this was an enjoyable rendition, though it was a bit heavier and chewier. The crepe itself tasted almost like a waffle cone, but the sweetness of the crepe was set off nicely by the slightly tangy coconut yogurt and fresh fruit and nuts that topped it.

Health: 3 out of 5 (probably a bit high in fat and sugar)

Taste: 4 out of 5 (interesting, unique, but no where as rave-worthy as the pancakes, though if you want a bit lighter breakfast the crepe is a good option)

 

TRUSTING, aka Tempeh Scramble

Tempeh scramble
This savory scramble is a blend of three-grain tempeh and mixed seasonal vegetables including shitake mushrooms, spinach, scallions, cilantro and avocado, and comes with whole grain sesame toast. This is definitely a hearty meal, more like a lunch or dinner item, with a nice healthy vibe, but the flavor didn’t really stick out as exciting or unique–sort of had an Asian stir-fry vibe. A solid staple kind of meal.
Health: 5 out of 5 (lots of fresh veg, high protein tempeh, light seasoning)

Taste: 3 out of 5 (nice fresh veggies and seasoning, just nothing that really popped out as exciting or note-worthy. My dad was a bit ho-hum about it—although he was obsessed with the muffin)

 

TERRIFIC, aka Kelp noodle salad

Kelp noodle salad

This dish combines kelp noodles with a Pad Thai type marinade tossed in an almond sauce with mixed vegetables including carrots, bell peppers, and kale, topped with crispy almonds and sprouts. The creaminess of the sauce was enticing, and the flavor of the dish was well balanced—light, but complex and satisfying without being overpowering. The hint of almonds really enhanced the flavor, and the avocado rounded everything out (what ISN’T better with avocado, really?). Another nice savory dish.

Health: 4.5 out of 5

Taste: 4.5 out of 5

Superfood Muffins: The Sequel (this time with Nibs!)

Scrumptious blueberry-banana muffins with raw cacao nibs!

Scrumptious blueberry-banana muffins with raw cacao nibs!

Some of you may have read about my first Superfood Muffin recipe, a mix of healthy flours, oils, and ‘superfoods’ like goji berries and chia seeds. Well, today I want to share with you a different version, one that I think I may like better than the original!

While the recipe I use for both versions is similar in many ways, I used a different website for my inspiration this time around—Blissful Blueberry Banana Spelt Muffins provided by oh she glows, a great website about vegan and gluten-free living (and eating).

Mmmm, fresh organic local blueberries...hard not to eat them all right now!

Mmmm, fresh organic local blueberries…hard not to eat them all right now!

The wet mix may not look especially appetizing, but just wait until these guys come out of the oven! Pictured: Mashed banana, avocado, maple syrup, almond milk, and coconut oil.

The wet mix may not look especially appetizing, but just wait until these guys come out of the oven! Pictured: Mashed banana, avocado, maple syrup, almond milk, and coconut oil.

This time around, I changed up my superfoods. The muffin batter has a similar base, including banana and avocado. But from there I took some different turns, including the addition of almond milk, and apple cider vinegar–thanks to oh she glows’ inspiration. For the add-ins, I incorporated a whole lot of fresh blueberries and a large handful of raw cacao nibs—my new favorite Super ingredient! I bought mine from Chocovivo, an amazing local raw chocolate shop that I will post about very soon. You can also find nibs at health food stores like Sprouts and Whole Foods, and of course online.

Raw cacao nibs have a robust dark chocolate flavor and a lot of health benefits.

Raw cacao nibs have a robust dark chocolate flavor and a lot of health benefits.

On their own, cacao nibs (if they are 100% cacao with no added sugar) are quite bitter and potent, but once you add them into a recipe or mix them into a smoothie, their flavor is mellowed out and provides a rich, chocolatey complement to whatever you serve them with, plus a bunch of great minerals and nutrients. Raw cacao nibs are packed with fiber and beneficial polyphenols, much more than processed chocolate. Turns out you can have your cake—er, chocolate—and eat it too!

I wrote about the health benefits of many of the other ingredients in my previous recipe post, so feel free to check it out for more info. If you do make any of these versions, let me know how they turn out and how you modify them. Hope you have fun trying out your own twists on these recipes!

May the Food be with You,

-Dr. K

Fresh out of the oven

Fresh out of the oven

Superfood Muffins: The Sequel

Ingredients

-2 bananas

-Approx ½ medium avocado

-¾ cup almond milk (you could use hemp, coconut, soy, or whatever floats your ‘milky’ boat)

-1 tsp apple cider vinegar (if you don’t have any on hand your muffins will still be edible, this just helps the batter rise a little better for a lighter texture)

-1 tsp vanilla or almond extract

-¼ cup coconut oil, melted

-2 cups flour; I used 1 c. spelt, ½ c. oat flour, ½ c. millet flour (you could use any combo of flours your heart desires!)

-1/3 cup coconut sugar (you can find at TJs!)

-½ cup oats

-2 tsp baking powder

-1.5 tsp cinnamon

-¼ tsp Himalayan sea salt

-½ tsp baking soda

-1-2 cups fresh or frozen* blueberries (I used 1 whole punnet of fresh berries)

-Optional add-ins: ¼ cup chia seeds or hemp seeds, ½ cup chopped walnuts, ½ cup goji berries, ½ cup cacao nibs (I went with the nibs, added amazing depth of flavor and are little bits of superfood goodness!)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and grease a muffin tin with coconut oil
  2. In a medium bowl, mash bananas and avocado.
  3. Add the milk, vinegar, maple syrup, and vanilla to mashed banana/avocado mix. No need to stir it yet.
  4. Melt the coconut oil in a small pot over low heat (or in microwave). Set aside.
  5. In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda).
  6. Stir coconut oil into the wet mixture. Pour wet ingredients onto the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Do not overmix as spelt is a fragile flour.
  7. Gently fold in your chosen add-ins and then the blueberries, being sure not to overmix as this can result in dense muffins.
  8. Spoon batter into muffin tin cups about 3/4 full (or if you are like me, all the way to the top!)
  9. Bake at 350F for 23-27 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean, or when you press the tops gently they are somewhat firm (not doughy) to the touch.
  10. Cool in pan for about 10 minutes and then transfer muffins to a cooling rack and cool for another 15 minutes.

*Note: If using frozen blueberries, be sure to leave them in the freezer (do not thaw) until just before you stir them into the batter. This helps prevent bleeding—unless you like purple muffins, in which case disregard! J

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! 🙂