Monday, August 27, 2018

Where to Be Merry: Baking Desserts @ The Monthly HelloWellness Event

The Merriment: A monthly series with a focus on wellness-related topics and activities, such as yoga, plant-based medicine and baking healthy desserts

The Location: Various locations throughout the L.A. region

The Vibes: Fun, informative, bubbly

Good for: Alone, girls night out, small groups

When-To-Go: On a specified day each month; find out about upcoming events here

The $$ Factor: Free - $50 per event

The Names behind the scenes: Co-Founders Sarah Osman and Jenna Sands

The 4-1-1: In addition to hosting monthly events, there’s also a four-day fitness retreat that will be led by 
sweat trainer Kelsey Wells at The UNICO 20°87° resort in Riviera Maya

Earlier this month I was invited to a HelloWellness event at the New School of Cooking Culver City. HelloWellness focuses on motivating bloggers, social media influencers and other health and wellness aficionados to move out from behind the screens and connect at monthly meet-ups. These events focus on activities that promote healthy lifestyles and are usually curated by a fellow health blogger / influencer. Originally launching last year in New York City, the series has now expanded to Boston, Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles.

Specifically for the event I attended, about 30 of us gathered to have The Toasted Pine Nut blog founder Lindsay Grimes Freedman, pictured above in the middle, walked us through making two healthy desserts: perfectly chewy chocolate chip cookies and no-bake cookie dough bars.

Now let me start by saying this: I grew up following my grandmother’s chocolate chip cookie recipe. It called for using heaps of butter, massive scoops of sugar and of course, sticking my finger in the bowl every minute or so to grab a quick taste, simply to ensure everything was coming out just right. Flashforward to this event, and Lindsay had us using all these healthy products — like the cashew butter, ghee, coconut palm sugar and almond flour pictured below — that I’d never even heard of, let alone baked with. So I’ll admit, I was a little skeptical of how everything was going to turn out. I mean, could her recipes taste like dessert is supposed to be: like a guilty, decadent, can’t-live-without indulgence?

I was about to find out! 

Splitting up into teams of about five to six people, each group had its own prepping station complete with all the tools and ingredients we needed to whip up the desserts.

First up were the perfectly chewy chocolate chip cookies, pictured below. To make them healthier than regular chocolate chip cookies, we substituted butter for ghee, white flour for almond flour and white sugar with coconut sugar. Our mixer unfortunately didn’t work, so we had to mix everything by hand. Nonetheless they were super easy and quick to prepare. 

After cooking for about 10 – 12 minutes, they emerged a beautiful golden brown, soft in the center and crisp on the edges. They were moist and I couldn’t taste the difference from using healthier substitutions. An A+ in my book! And, you can find Lindsay's recipe here if you're interested in baking them, too.

Next up were the no-bake cookie dough bars. We used a lot of the same ingredients as the cookies: almond flour, vanilla extract, dark chocolate chips and sea salt. We also added some new ingredients, including cashew butter and agave nectar.

After mixing everything together, we spread it into a metallic cylinder, drizzled some melted dark chocolate on top and popped it into the freezer to chill for about 10 minutes. I don’t think our bars stayed frozen long enough, as some were still a bit gooey and the chocolate frosting wasn’t completely hardened. But, they definitely had a great flavor, and I’d be interested in making them again. If you want to make them too, here's the recipe.

As we nibbled on our marvelous mini masterpieces, we came back together as one big group and Lindsay answered a few questions from guests about everything from how she first got started blogging to where she draws her inspiration to formulate new recipes. We left the night with treats in hand and also a goodie bag filled with snacks and treats, pictured below.

As my first HelloWellness event, I had a fun and informative time. I learned something new about baking — that you truly can create a fairly healthy dessert without sacrificing flavor — and, it's always nice connecting with other fellow bloggers and social media influencers.

The next HelloWellness event in Los Angeles will be “Meal Prep Tips & Tricks” with @kaleandcarrotsticks on Thursday, Sept. 20.

See you at the next one soon!

For more info:

Monday, August 20, 2018

Where to Eat: Summer Evenings @ GRANVILLE WeHo

The Eats: American classics with a high-end twist

The Location: West Hollywood

The Vibes: Swanky, airy, casually chic

Good for: Alone, couples, small and large groups

When-To-Go: Sunday – Thursday, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.

The $$ Factor: Appetizers, $6.50 - $14; Entrées, $11 - $32; Libations, $11 - $14

The 4-1-1: There’s a gorgeous back patio that’s available to rent for events — with no minimum required. Talk about a deal!

Parking Situation: Valet or nearby metered parking

I’ll Be Back…:
For the Thick-Cut Pork Chop!

Last week, I attended a media event at GRANVILLE in West Hollywood to get an inside scoop into some of the top favorites there. And, I like it so much, I went back again — literally two nights later!

First and foremost, let’s just have a moment for the space. There are simply so many cute places to choose from.

There’s the semi-enclosed patio, pictured below.

Or, pull up a seat at the bar, with soaring ceilings and curvy, concrete walls.

Even sitting in one of the main dining room areas, there’s simply not a bad seat in this place.

WeHo’s GRANVILLE has been in business a little over a year (and fun fact: there are three other locations — in Glendale, Studio City and the original one in Burbank, which opened 12 years ago. There’s also going to be another opening in Pasadena by the end of this year). While each location has most of the same menu items, they all have their own unique spaces. For example, because it’s so close to the upscale Melrose Ave. design district that houses the renowned Pacific Design Center, this WeHo location features artwork from local artists, such as this piece below, which was made using burnt matches. 

Now on to the food. GRANVILLE’s approach is that “flavors need to pop and need to be big,” Manager Food and Beverage Marc Dix shared at the media event. His team brings in more than 800 varied ingredients each and every day, making everything from scratch. The ultimate goal: to create creative “craveables”— taking a high-end approach to everyday favorites, that in the end, won’t necessarily have a high-end price point.

During our affair, more than 20 dishes and beverages were whisked out, from flagship favorites such as the Sweet Potato Fries to globally inspired entrées, like the Spicy Chicken Plate with the South African peri peri sauce. Here’s a quick glimpse at what we feasted on:

First course

There were five selections to start us off. I dove right into one of GRANVILLE’s most popular “shareables,” the Sweet Potato Fries, pictured below. Marc explained that immediately after they come piping hot out of the oil they’re fried in, they’re lightly salted and then tossed in rosemary and thyme, giving them this subtly earthy — and delicious — flavor.

The Butter Lettuce Cups — filled with fresh mango, avocado, tomato and slaw, all coated in a tangy lemongrass vinaigrette — were surprisingly refreshing and bursting with sweetness. A good choice for my vegan peeps, although you do have the option to add tempeh, chicken, steak or shrimp. 

Other selections we tried were the Grilled Cheese Dipper, the Smoked Salmon Spread & Rye Crisps and the Lemon Cous Cous, which was cooked in a corn stock and dressed in a lemon herb vinaigrette.

Second course

We transitioned to five heartier options. Out of the four I tried (I sat the Westside Pastrami Sandwich out), I was quite surprised to find myself pretty impressed with each and every one.

There were two flatbreads up for grabs. The Chicken and Blue Flatbread with three types of cheese, ripe figs and prosciutto was a nice balance of sweet, savory, crunchy and chewy. 

The Veggie Churrasco Flatbread has by far, some of the most distinctive medley of flavors combined together. There’s a bit of Southwestern flair, thanks to cilantro and lime radicchio, and a bit of sweetness from caramelized onions. 

Served warm, the Housemade Hummus has a zesty kick to it, and crunchy toasted pine nuts add a pleasant texture to it. And last but certainly not least, the Uptown Mac & Cheese pictured below is one of the biggest sellers, and I can most certainly see why. It’s a buttery blend of aged cheddar and Gruyere, all topped with massive heaps of chicken. 

Third course

Of the five main entrées available to sample, the Thick-Cut Pork Chop, pictured below, was my favorite. Aside from being a very tender and juicy 12 oz. cut, a fabulous cranberry / mango compote added a pleasantly sweet touch to it. 

Other meat options included the Spicy Chicken Plate, which paid homage to South African cuisine with a peri peri sauce, and the Skirt Steak drizzled with a light South American chimichurri sauce.

The two vegan options had their own one-of-a-kind vibes. While I wouldn’t say that the Farro & Mushroom Risotto (pictured below) is as creamy as a traditional risotto, it definitely does come close, thanks to the farro grain initially being soaked in potato starch, as Marc told me as we chatted about this dish.

I’m not typically a fan of quinoa, but the Poblano Quinoa was oozing with all kinds of interesting aromas. The chimichurri sauce and candied pepitas added a subtle sweetness while there was also a charred and smoky taste to it, too. Plus, the quinoa is cooked in a vegetable broth and mixed with fresh veggies including squash, bell pepper and zucchini. 

Fourth course

Save room for dessert! We ended with the Devil’s Advocate Flourless Chocolate Cake, pictured below — a gluten-free option topped with a cream cheese frosting and port cherries. Truth be told, I didn't love the cake, but it did pair well with the Fortnight Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Speaking of wines, throughout the night, seven different wines and cocktails were on rotation, including this little libation pictured below — the White Lady, a blend of gin, lemon juice, egg whites and orange liqueur. Plus, GRANVILLE’s wine program features some really fantastic wines, mainly sourced from California regions such as Santa Barbara, Sonoma and Napa. 

Overall, I was impressed, especially after returning over the weekend and having a phenomenal experience then, too. Plus, I appreciate how many vegan / vegetarian options there are and the casual but still swanky ambiance. So the next time you're looking for a nice but not pretentious place to grab an incredible dinner one summer evening, consider GRANVILLE WeHo.

See you there soon!

For more information: