Monday, January 17, 2011

Cilantro Lime Dressing with a Kick

It is really not easy to eat healthy.

I have developed some pretty healthy eating habits over the past 15 years. It is quite common for me to eat about 7-8 salads per week, often more. However, I am sure my health conscious readers are well aware that while a salad can be your best friend, it can also be a deceitful little enemy. I used to think a good rule of thumb was if you really like the salad, it is probably bad for you.

That doesn't have to be true if you focus on bringing rich flavors to a hearty salad. I have to be creative by giving myself enough variety in salads so I don't get sick of eating them. Of course, I have my go-to options for some healthy take-out or dining-out. Here are some of my favorites in the LA area:

Chicken Chow Salad - Lulu's Cafe
Greek Salad (with chicken) - Trimana
The Cowboy Salad (I sub low cal honey mustard dressing for the blue cheese dressing w/honey drizzle) - Mixt Greens
California Chicken Salad (86 croutons and pasta with low cal ranch dressing) - California Chicken Cafe
Debbie's Chopped Salad (eat it with a big spoon!) - Factor's Famous Deli
Raw Salad with chicken (this is no longer on the menu, but they will make it if you ask)- Tender Greens

By focusing on hearty flavorful ingredients, a salad can be healthy and still satisfying. This simple dressing will add so much flavor to any salad, you will not need to add all the things that would make it bad for you to feel satisfied. You also do not need too much of the dressing itself. I added a couple tablespoons to a big bowl of my southwestern chicken salad . I couldn't get enough.

The recipe from Women's Health Magazine, calls for safflower oil (something basically no one has in the pantry) so I used olive oil instead.

Cilantro Lime Dressing with a Kick

(recipe adapted from Women's Health Magazine)

1/2 tsp hot sauce
3 tsp lime juice
2 tbsp cilantro
1/4 c oil (olive oil or safflower oil)

Blend the first 3 ingredients in a blender and then add the oil to blend.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The 2nd Best Cuban Sandwich

A trip to Florida makes me hungry for Cuban.

In California, I am all about the delicious Mexican food. El Cholo (at the original location on Western Ave in Los Angeles, of course) is not only one of my favorite Mexican restaurants, it is one of my absolute favorite restaurants. Everything is just delicious, and the atmosphere is casually classy and laid back.

In Florida, the specialty is Cuban food and in California it is Mexican food; as you can imagine, it is heavily due to the proximity of each state to their respective countries. Now, I should be fair to say Los Angeles has some great Cuban restaurants like Versailles and El Colmao and parts of Florida have some wonderful Mexican restaurants like La Fiesta in Gainesville, FL or even the gourmet Mexican Restaurant chain, Cantina Laredo that you can find in several states (but not California). This is 2011; great food and people that make great food can be thousands of miles from the homeland.

However, the Cuban sandwich takes me back to my college days in Florida when Zach and I first started dating in Gainesville. We became regulars at this hip little Cuban bakery called Flaco's . It was where I fell in love with the Cuban sandwich. I rarely order a Cuban sandwich anywhere anymore; there are usually much more exciting option on the menu of a good Cuban restaurant like ropa vieja, beans and rice and fried plantains (sweet or unsweet are both fine by me!). But I sometimes find myself craving one of the two type of Cubans Zach and I used to share at Flaco's: the standard Cuban or the Medianoche (which was made with their special slightly sweetened bread). They used the most delicious Cuban-style shredded pork and the freshest, soft-on-the-inside-crunchy-on-the-outside pressed Cuban breads.

Cuban sandwiches are so simple to make at home. Yuu will never make them as well as Flaco; I can promise you that. But you can make some pretty-darn satisfying sandwiches with just a tiny bit more effort than it would take you to make a standard ole' ham and cheese sannie.

The Cuban Sandwich

(makes 4 6-inch sandwiches)

*1/2 lb Pork (shredded Cuban pork is the best, but you can use sliced roasted pork from the deli counter at the grocery store. If that is not an option, I would suggest roast beef as a last resort)
*1/2 lb Ham
*1/2 lb Swiss cheese
*Pickles (sliced lengthwise)
*Mustard (regular mustard works the best, but I have used specialty mustards to change things up)
*Fresh Cuban bread (1 long one should work) - (You can use a baguette if you cannot find Cuban bread, especially if you are going to press the sandwich anyway)

I don't think I really need to explain what you do next besides just saying, "assemble the sandwich".

You can eat your delicious sandwich at this point if you wish, but I suggest pressing it if you own some sort panini or sandwich press. You may want to lightly spread some oil, butter or butter-type spread on the outside of the bread before placing the sandwich into the press. If you are pressing, I would also suggest putting the ham on the bottom, then the shredded pork, then the cheese, then the pickles on top (the mustard can be slathered onto the bread directly). This way, the cheese melts right into the shredded pork. Yum.

Note: I did not have a press to use this time so I just stuck the sandwiches in the oven on a low setting to give them a little crunch.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Do Da Dip, Guacamole Feta Salsa Dip

I put my hand upon your hip. When I dip, you dip, we dip.

Do you remember dancing to that song at middle school dances? If so, welcome to my generation.

There are a handful of songs that "take me back". It is so strange the music that is nostalgic to one generation can mean nothing to the next. Artists like Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga and the Jonas Brothers are the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears and Hanson to the next generation. I suppose if you want to know how old someone is, it could be pretty revealing to start up a conversation about the music they grew up with.

I am more of a movie person myself (not that the two need to be exclusive). I am so behind with even popular music as an adult, but there are songs you just couldn't escape when I was growing up, mostly due tot the fact that you actually had to buy expensive CD's if you wanted to listen to specific music (back in my day). Otherwise, you were stuck with the radio. Here are a couple songs that would make me nostalgic from when I was growing up (even though some might say I still am):

"All MY Life" - KC & JoJo
"I Swear" - All for One
"Killing Me Softly" - The Fugees
"Ironic" - Alanis Morissett
"Time of Your Life" - Green Day
"BIG Papa" - Notorious B.I.G.
"I'll be Missing You" - Puff Daddy (as he was called "back in the day") and Faith Evans (this song was recorded in response to Notorious B.I.G.'s murder in the 90's.
"Dreamlover" and "Hero" (and any other song by Mariah Carey)
"I want it That Way" - Backstreet Boys
"Baby One More Time" - Britney Spears
"Bye Bye Bye" - N'Sync
"MMMMMBop" - Hanson

There are really too many to bother continuing listing them. I suppose this song list might reveal something besides my age. It might reveal the fact that I was not really an edgy kid growing up or I might have listed more alternative rock type music. And of course there are songs that "take me back" that are not from my generation at all like selections from some of my favorite musicals or songs from the soft rock station my mom used to listen to in the car, "Warm 94.9".

I wonder what ever happened to that "Da Dip" song. It was just so simple, and it really used to get people out on the dance floor. This dip has a bunch of ingredients, but it is pretty simple too. Though I doubt it would get anyone on the dance floor; it might be more of a lazy afternoon watching football kind of dip. In fact, this was the very dip enjoyed by Zach's and my family when we got together over New Years to watch the Gators win the Outback Bowl.

Da Dip: Avocado Feta Salsa Dip

(recipe adapted from - makes about 4 cups of dip)

3 plum tomatoes, chopped
3-4 ripe avocado - peeled, pitted and chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
2 clove garlic, minced
1 handful fresh chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice (original recipe used red or white wine vinegar, but I didn't have any, and the lemon juice was great - lime would work too)
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese

In a bowl, gently stir together tomatoes, avocados, onion, and garlic. Mix in cilantro. Gently stir in olive oil and lemon juice. Then stir in feta. Cover, and chill for at least 1 hour (preferably 2-6).

This dip can also be used creatively as a topping for some grilled chicken or a spread in a nice fresh turkey sandwich. It is very different from a salsa and also pretty different from a guacamole. You can use less avocados and more tomatoes if you wish as well. Enjoy!