Thursday, April 14, 2016

Bein' Green Savin' Green at the Supermarket Part 1: Sprouts

Too often I hear complaints about how difficult it is to shop healthily at a supermarket. I frequently see people gravitate toward the junk food aisles or the substandard meat counters. People would rather purchase a $1 burger at McDonalds than a pint of berries for the same price. The real issue is the lack of knowledge about how to purchase pricy organic items for a fraction of the price. Just because a product is labeled as $4 does not mean that it needs to be purchased at that amount. I am starting this series of saving money at various supermarkets in hopes that it will encourage people who are on a budget to purchase more wisely. There are plenty of ways to cut back on your spending, while still enjoying the most lavish meals you can find at your neighborhood supermarket.

I am kicking this series off with one of my favorite stores: "Sprouts Farmer's Market". This store has been gaining momentum in the last couple of years and is continuously opening new locations throughout the US. While they are now mostly in the West, I do not doubt that they will soon be making their way to the East. What I love most about Sprouts is that they are like a more affordable version of Whole Foods. They do not have as wide of a variety as Whole Foods does, but they do have a large selection of organic and vegan products. Their selection seems to be growing as well, as they are constantly securing new partnerships with budding businesses. I love shopping at Sprouts for their fresh and tasty produce as well as packaged items. Their beauty items are also very affordable.

Here are some helpful tips to make your Sprouts trip more cost effective:

* It's best to shop on Wednesdays. Both week's ads apply, so there are double the sales occurring. It's more likely that you'll find a good produce item on sale on this day and berries have a tendency to be the cheapest on a Wednesday.

* Make sure to look through their monthly coupon book, which can be found at the front of the store alongside the weekly ad.  Many of the items that are in there also go on sale at some point during the month. You will find yourself with some big savings purchasing it on sale on top of using a coupon.  I once paid $2 for 2 large seventh generation items when it was on sale as BOGO and then used a coupon for additional savings.

* Just like clothing, a lot of great seasonal items are often deemed as unsellable. Or perhaps the store just got a surplus of items and they aren't selling as well as the store intended. Those items can often be found in the clearance section, usually located in the back of the store.  Sometimes individual sections have their own clearance items, particularly the frozen and refrigerated areas. One of my most memorable purchases was a pack of shredded Daiya cheese for a mere $1. My homemade pizza couldn't have tasted better that night.

* Often Sprouts will have a sale, but since it's so popular, the item will sell out quickly. You will find yourself at the store staring at an empty shelf, wishing you had come 15 minutes earlier and maybe you would have scored that pack of kale chips that is half off. No need to fret and curse aloud at that slow car that was ahead of you that delayed your trip. Just purchase the items that you are able to find and while you check out, ask the cashier for a rain check. Sprouts is amazing with both writing and honoring their rain checks. They will allow you to use it during a future visit and purchase as many items as you wish, honoring the sale weeks later.  Recently, one of my favorite cold pressed juices, Forager Project had an amazing BOGO sale. I went a couple of times during the sale, but the juices were never in stock. I got a rain check, and then came back a few weeks later when I found myself craving those luscious juices. I purchased 6 juices, which came out to only $18 total. $3 for cold pressed juice is unheard of, so I was thrilled to be able to take advantage of this deal.

* Lastly, Sprouts has fantastic brand sales throughout the month. Sometimes Sprouts greatly discounts its own brand and often they focus on a select group of brands and slash their prices. I've never been much of a morning fan, but since I've been recovering from back surgery, I've found myself craving a sweet breakfast in the morning. I was thrilled to discover Nature's Path Organic cereal because not only is it flavorful, but it also provides a lot of great health benefits, such as as Omega-3s. I'm also obsessed with the all of the crispy and crunchy textures the cereal provides which is right on par with my high expectations. This cereal was 40% this past week, so I made sure to stock up until I'm fully recovered.

Sprouts is my all time go to store when it comes to both health and saving money. My only hope is that they will continue to expand nationally, so I can access it when I travel. I also would love for the store to have a prepared foods section that matches Whole Foods, since I'm sure it would be way more affordable. I cannot wait for my next Sprouts shopping trip and wish that they would open up a store down the street from me, so I could shop there every day!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Magnificent Meal At M.A.K.E.

On a gorgeous summery afternoon, I met up with one of my friends to dine at M.A.K.E. in Santa Monica, a completely raw Vegan restaurant. The calming breeze starkly contrasted with my excitement to finally dine at this establishment. Ever since I heard rave reviews from various friends, I imagined myself stuffing my face with their delicacies. My dream of dining there came true when I noticed that they were participating in Dine LA's Restaurant Week, offering a more "affordable" menu. For lunch, they had a two course menu for $25 with the optional addition of a juice for just $6 more. Considering that the entrees normally cost close to $20, this is a fantastic deal.

I scanned the menu closely, faced with the ever so difficult decision of what to order. Everything on the pre-fix menu made my mouth water and I wanted it all. Trying to stay on a budget, I opted to restrict myself to only ordering a salad and entree. I ultimately ended up ordering the kale salad and lasagna. My friend decided to stick with the regular menu and ordered the Baja + Ceviche King Trumpets.

The California Kale salad came out first and I dug in immediately.

The kale did not resemble kale in the slightest and had a softer texture. It seemed way closer to spinach and lacked the bitter taste that kale normally has. The salad was well dressed and had a lovely succulent tomato flavor.  The pickled peppers added a nice crunchiness. The wasabi pine nuts took the dish over the top and added a lovely spice and a subtle smoky flavor.

Next, I had the main course: the Market Tomato Lasagna.

I loved the presentation of the lasagna just as much as I loved the dish. It looked so beautiful, I found it difficult to cut into (but of course that didn't stop me!). The dish had so much flavors going on and it was so hard to fathom that it was completely raw! M.A.K.E. did an exquisite job at getting the zucchini slices to perfectly mimic noodles and I never would have believed there was no gluten in this dish. The tomato sauce had a wonderful sweetness with just a slight tartness to balance it out. The cashew cheese truly made the dish and was so rich and creamy, with a fabulous nutty flavor. There was also a lovely pesto that added even more depth to the lasagna.

My wonderful friend let me try some of her dish, since I was curious what it tasted like.

The vegetables utilized in the lettuce tacos were very fresh and crisp. The homemade ceviche was a standout and seemed to resemble fish very well. It had a light flavor and a fantastic texture. I also loved the creaminess of the perfectly ripe avocado.

Lastly, we had a lovely tart for dessert. It was so rich and decadent and had a smooth, creamy texture. The taste of lemon was dominant, but the bitterness was balanced out with a slight sweetness.

Overall, the meal was fabulous and I enjoyed every bite. I didn't find the food to be very filling, however, and I wish I had ordered the optional juice. This restaurant is great for an occasional indulgence, but not very practical to eat at too often with the hefty prices. Still, I am hoping for an opportunity to dine there again soon, so I can try more of their mouthwatering dishes!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Darling Evening At Darbster

On my recent trip to Florida to visit my grandma, we dined at one of my favorite restaurants: Darbster. The restaurant has two locations and we opted to go to the West Palm Beach one, since we were nearby shopping at City Place. It just so happened that night that they posted a fantastic deal on their Facebook page to reward their loyal fans. The deal was a complimentary order of the palm cakes with an entree order. I was excited because not only are the palm cakes valued at $8, but they are one of my favorite dishes at Darbster.

The palm cakes were brought out fairly quickly, which was great, since my grandma and I were both famished.

The palm cakes were just as scrumptious as I remembered. The outside was crispy and fried to perfection, which the inside was nice and crumbly. The hearts of palm had a slightly fishy flavor that enabled it to mimic crab cakes very well. The palm cakes were coated in a creamy aioli taste that had tasted of harissa and bell peppers. It added a great depth to the dish and took it over the top.

Next, my dish came out: the Quinoa Loaf.

This is a very innovative dish, since the quinoa and vegetables have been combined to simulate a meat loaf. The end result was a very crispy, savory dish, which did not resemble quinoa at all. My favorite aspect of the dish is the crunchy fried onions on top, adding a nice bitterness to the dish. The gravy provided the loaf with even more flavor and even had a slightly sweet taste. The steamed broccoli and mashed potatoes were nice accompaniments and made the dish even more of a comfort food.

Lastly, my grandma had the Barley Filet Au Poirve w/ Cognac Creme, Asparagus, and Caramelized Shallot & Rosemary Fingerling Mash. This was a special Entree, since it was French week. 

This dish was spectacular. Thankfully, the dish was too much for my grandma and I was able to finish it for her. The filet had a great texture and a fantastic crispiness and savoriness that was reminiscent of its meat counterpart. I enjoyed the cognac creme, which had a slight tartness and enhanced the flavor of the barley filet very well. The caramelized shallot and rosemary fingerling mash had a unique blend of spices and seasonings. The balsamic reduction was a nice touch and added an extra tartness and slight sweetness to the dish. 

Darbster is a must go to when in the South Florida area. The West Palm location overlooks a picturesque river and the patio provides a lovely, relaxing view of the wildlife. On top of that, the restaurant is always full of adorable dogs that provide an extra level of entertainment. While Darbster is quite pricey, the restaurant constantly offers deals to email and Facebook subscribers, as well as donates its proceeds to its own animal rescue organization. I cannot wait to dine there again on my next visit to Florida. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Fantastic Dinner At Franchia

During my visit to the Big Apple to see my big sister, I ventured to Franchia, a cute Korean restaurant that is very decorative. The menu is vast and not only includes Korean specialties, but also Japanese and Chinese specialties. We had quite the feast since we were famished.

We began the meal with some appetizers. First, we had the Crispy Scallion Pancakes ($9).

These pancakes were indeed crispy and fried to perfection. The scallion flavor was very prominent and gave the pancakes a bitter flavor. The dipping sauce accompanied the dish very well, adding even more saltiness. 

Next, we had the Assorted Dumplings ($13).

These were very interesting. The dumplings were lightly fried and filled with a variety of flavors. The first ones I tried were a variety of vegetables, which were delectable and airy. The next ones were more healthy tasting, being that they were composed of kale and were more chewy. Next, I had the spicy kimchi dumplings, which had a stronger flavor but could have been even spicier. Lastly, I had the "meat" dumplings, which were very savory and the tastiest.

Next, we had the Spicy Vegan Buffalo Wings ($9).

These were decent although pretty forgettable. The texture was a bit off and they were overly chewy. I did like the sauce, however, which gave the dish a meaty flavor and had a nice kick to it. They were also quite filling, despite there only being a few of them.

Next, we had the Spicy Tuna Roll with brown rice ($6.50).

I was never much of a sushi fan, ironically, until I turned vegan. So I always get excited when a restaurant offers a vegan version. Franchia's version was spectacular. The tuna was so realistic. It had a strong fishy flavor and even embodied the mushy consistency of the real thing. The mayo on top was very creamy and had a spicy flavor. 

Lastly, for our entree we got the Vegetarian 'Duck' Stone bowl ($18).  

This dish was superb. The mock dock was very meaty and had a perfect consistency of the right amount of chewiness. The vegetables were well cooked and coated in a lovely seasoning. The Korean spices were savory with a subtle sweet flavor.

Overall, the meal was very good. Everything was tasty and still pretty light and healthy. The vegetables were very fresh tasting and the ingredients were high quality. The only negative part of the dining experience was that they were all out of dessert! I was bummed out about that, since I had raving reviews about their cheesecake. The food was pricy, but considering the restaurant's location, it's not very surprising. Luckily, I was able to use my Green Menu card for a 10% discount, which reduced the price. I cannot wait to dine there again on my next visit to NYC.

Friday, November 22, 2013

An Eventful Meal At Evo Kitchen

Evo Kitchen is a delightful restaurant that serves up some of the best pizza I've ever had. The food is all organic and the vegetables are always very fresh. They have a great variety of vegan selections to choose from and everything I've eaten there has been delicious.

On my most recent dining venture there a couple months ago, I had a pretty subpar experience, which was a huge let down. The service was very slow and the waitress made a critical mistake of putting the order in as real cheese, despite my emphasizing twice that I have a dairy allergy. I would have expected a free dessert to make up for the fact that we had to wait another twenty minutes for the new pizza to be made, but she merely comped us with some watered down beverages. When our new pizza came, I was so ravenous that I gulfed it down very quickly.

The pizza we got was the large build your own with vegan chicken, avocado and caramelized onions.

The pizza was very scrumptious. The bread was crispy, the tomato sauce was sweet with a slight tartness, and the daiya cheese was perfectly melted. The soy chicken was very savory and meaty and had a wonderful seasoning. The avocado balanced out the soy chicken with its buttery, more mellow flavor. The caramelized onions were cooked to perfection and had a nice crunch.

Despite being in a rush, we opted for a dessert to end the meal. We had the Brownie with the Vegan Sorbet.

The brownie was so moist and very decadent. It had a strong chocolate flavor and was rich and heavenly. The taste lingered on my tongue for awhile after. The coconut sorbet was very creamy and also had a luscious buttery flavor. This was a great finale and almost redeemed the horrible service.

Overall, the food was good as usual but the service was definitely lacking, which was a bit surprising, since they seemed very attentive during my previous visits. I think this restaurant has a lot of potential to be really great and of course I would love them to add even more vegan options! I used a living social voucher for $10 for $20 worth of food and drink, which was a pretty significant discount and made the food more reasonably priced.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Fierce Meal At Follow Your Heart

On a hot summery afternoon, I ventured to Follow Your Heart in Canoga Park for a scrumptious lunch. The all-vegetarian restaurant was completely packed with a lone table waiting just for me. The menu was even bigger than it was my last visit, so I was excited that I had more options (although I was also a tad overwhelmed).

I started the meal off with a refreshing shake, which was a meal in itself. I opted for the Peanut Butter Shake made vegan ($6.50).

The shake was so decadent and had a rich peanut butter flavor. It was very thick and frothy and filling. It served as a dessert replacement in having the perfect amount of sweetness and a great accompaniment  with my entree by counteracting the saltiness of my meal.

For my entree, I had the Spanakopita ($14) made vegan.

This dish was amazing. The spanakopita was fantastic and had a flaky, crispy outer layer and a savory interior. The spinach and tofu feta concoction had a creamy texture and were generously coated in Mediterranean spices. It was so flavorful and melted in my mouth as I ate it.  On the downside, the rice was a little bland, however and could have used some seasoning and the salad was dry without any dressing. The onions were also very overpowering and I felt wasteful not being able to eat all of them, since my mouth was on fire. It is such a shame that such a delectable entree was accompanied with underwhelming sides.

Overall, I felt satisfied with the meal and found the tastes lingering on my tongue for quite awhile after. I would love to see Follow Your Heart improve the Spanakopita dish as it has such potential. I used a $20 voucher that I purchased for just $8 so the meal was very reasonably priced. Follow Your Heart had raised the prices of its dishes slightly since my last visit, but it is still well worth it. The food is delicious and the portions are quite large. I cannot wait to return again and wish they would add a second location on the West Side so I could visit more often!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Charismatic Meal At Crossroads Kitchen

During my dad's visit, we ventured to the luxurious, recently opened restaurant, Crossroads, to experience their magnificent food. The restaurant has had quite the buzz and has been lauded by many celebrities and food publications. Luckily, his visit coincided with Dine LA's bi-annual Restaurant Week, so we decided to take advantage of the special pre-fix menu.

For our first course, we had the Kale Salad and Pee Wee Potato Salad.

First we tried the Kale Salad.

The salad was fantastic. The kale was well massaged and had a light, citrusy vinaigrette. The currants added a lovely sweetness to contrast the tangy dressing, while the pine nuts were a nice touch. 

Next, we had the potato salad.

This salad was a little heavier than the kale salad, but was very hearty. The dressing was fabulous and very savory, with a slight bitterness. The potatoes and green beans were well cooked and easy to chew. I also enjoyed the crunchiness of the toasted pine nuts.

For our second course, we had the Spiced Chickpeas and the Wood Roasted Okra.

First, we had the Spiced Chickpeas.

These were fantastic. The chickpeas were soft and delectable and were coated with succulent roasted tomatoes and Mediterranean seasonings. The creamy garlic whip was heavenly and took the dish to a whole other level.

Next, we had the Wood Roasted Okra.

I've never been a fan of okra, due to its overwhelming bitterness. This okra was unlike any I have tasted before. Somehow the seasonings masked the okra's pungent taste and made it taste scrumptious. It had a savory flavor and had a wonderful crunchiness as if it had been deep-fried. The peppers added a lovely heat that lingered in my mouth, until the next course was brought out.

For our third course, we had the Ragu and Scallopini Piccata.

First we tried the Ragu.

This dish was very interesting. The eggplant stew was superb and I appreciated the contrasting sweet and bitter flavors of the tomatoes and kalamata olives. What made this dish so unique was the cottage cheese concoction on top, which added a wonderful nutty taste.

Next, we had the Scallopini Piccata.

I wasn't really sure what to make of this dish, but it was quite spectacular and perhaps one of the most memorable dishes of the night. The dish was purely concocted of vegetables and seemed to mimic meat almost perfectly. It was very tough and chewy and juicy. It was coated in a scrumptious gravy and had a slight tanginess. 

For our final course, we both had the Chocolate Ganache Tartlet. 

This was the perfect way to end the meal. The bite size pie was filled with a rich, decadent chocolate mousse and covered with perfectly crunchy popcorn glazed in a caramel coating. There was a slight saltiness to the dessert, which was a lovely contrast to the sugary flavors.

Overall, the meal was one of the best I've had in my life. The flavors were truly gourmet and the dishes were so inspired and unique. I appreciated that the chef used vegetables in such a creative way and limited the use of soy and gluten. The meal only cost $25 a person (not including tax and tip), which was a great deal considering how much food we were given and the quality. Ordering a la carte would have cost way more. I will definitely return to Crossroads again for an occasional splurge on scrumptious food.