Guitless Almond Ginger Dressing

Continuing with the salad theme from yesterday….

So, let’s talk about making salad at home. You start with the greatest of intentions. You assemble your favorite greens, you chop all your favorite salad veggies. You purchase bags of your favorite toppings like nuts, seeds, and dried fruit. You may even go so far as to hard boil some eggs or invest in some nice canned tuna. With all of your ingredients prepped, you are feeling so good about making yourself this nice healthy salad. Yay you. So you put all your ingredients in a bowl and crack open that bottle of overly thick, too creamy, chemical-filled bottle of dressing that’s labeled “low fat” or “low carb” or some other horrible gimmick that really means you can pronounce only half of the ingredients on the bottle, and you dump it all over that glorious bowl of nature. Fail.

If you read my post from yesterday you know salads are not something I get thrilled over, but let’s face it, working salads into your diet is a really good way of keeping you balanced… provided you can keep them under control. You know what I’m talking about. Piles of cheese, deli meats, croutons, tortilla strips, steak – these are all items that will lead to a surefire salad fail, just like bottled dressing.

Today I’m sharing a guilt-free dressing recipe that packs in the flavor and texture, but not the unwanted fat and calories. The secret? Don’t use oil. Almost every oil you see on the supermarket shelf are 120 calories per tablespoon and most dressing recipes call for upwards of half a cup. Guilt. It’s true, all dressings need fat to emulsify, but there are better ways to get it in. The base is raw almond butter, which I combine with various ingredients laying around my kitchen including soy sauce, horseradish, ginger, and rice wine vinegar. Then, instead of streaming in oil to make the dressing, I use coconut water. What you get is a thick, zesty dressing that you swear has cream in it. Nope! Nothing to feel bad about, 5 minutes, and a few dollars to make. Starving artist, baby!

I should say that almond butter is by no means calorie free, but when repurposed in such a way you’re stretching out the calories of one serving over many. And, the natural fat and calories in raw almond butter is going to be way easier on your body than any processed oil.

Guiltless Almond Dressing (Recipe PDF)

My tips for keeping your salad under control:

  1. Measure your dressing first. The bigger the salad, the more dressing you’ll need and that means more calories. Put the dressing in the bowl first and then add in your salad fixings. This will ensure that your salad won’t be too huge and won’t force you to keep adding dressing.
  2. Find a combination of vegetables and toppings that works for you. The only way you’re going to eat salad is if you absolutely love it, so find a combination that works for you. Be creative. There are so many slaws and greens available in the grocery store nowadays, not to mention roasted nuts, seeds, and dried fruit. See below for what’s in my salad to give you some starting ideas.
  3. Stay away from refined starches. If you must have a carbohydrate, make it a whole wheat pita or better yet a piece of spouted wheat toast. Croutons, lo mein noodles, tortilla strips – they are going to mess up your flow. Steer clear and you won’t be sorry!
  4. Pick one protein. You don’t need chicken and tuna and hard boiled egg. Choose one and you will keep your calorie count way down. Try crumbling on your favorite veggie burger!

What’s in my salad in the picture:

From Trader Joe’s:

  • Broccoli slaw
  • Shredded Cabbage
  • Baby Spinach
  • Butter Lettuce
  • Dried Cranberries
  • Sliced Toasted Almonds
  • Roasted Salted Sunflower Seeds

From anywhere:

  • 1/2 an avocado, diced
  •  1 can of sardines in olive oil, drained and broken up (you can use tuna instead)
  • Fresh ground pepper

I want to hear your variations on this recipe – let me know what you changed up! What’s your favorite salad? Or how about salad fail? Comment it up! :-D

Craving the Greens

Chipotle Barbecue Chicken Salad

I am not the kind of person who gets excited over salad…it’s lettuce, people. Unless of course you’re talking about the salads from Tender Greens on Sunset and Vine in Hollywood – then you’re talking about salads I crave. Normally the only way I really want to eat salad is if I make it myself. Then I have total control over texture, flavor, amount of dressing, etc. When I first moved to LA I met up with my dear friend Kristen in Culver City and the first quintessentially LA establishment she wanted to take me was Tender Greens. If salads don’t excite me, then salads purchased from restaurants REALLY don’t excite me – overpriced, underwhelming. But, not only do I trust Kristen completely, I really love any restaurant that provides crave-able healthy food. Judging by the line that stretched out the door and well into the sidewalk during lunchtime, I was guessing that I was in for just that. Kristen recommended the Chipotle Barbecue Chicken Salad – romaine, avocado, tortilla strips, queso fresco, green onion, cilantro lime dressing – and the rest is history. I get this salad every single time I go (though I have tried other items on the menu). I can’t decide what makes this place so tempting. Maybe its the fact that their chicken (and really all their meat) is cooked so perfectly – grilled and crusty, yet totally juicy. Maybe it’s because they use chicken thighs and not breasts. Perhaps its their commitment to buying everything from local farmers. Or maybe it’s simply because they have salads down – good lettuce, always the right amount of dressing, perfect blend of flavors and textures.

When I moved to Franklin Village in Hollywood after my first year in Los Angeles, I was terribly thrilled to see that they were opening a location on Sunset within walking distance of my place. I immediately brought my roommate and got her on the TG train (as I like to call it). But there was something new at this location I was not expecting to find: the best fried chicken on earth. No, I’m not kidding. Boneless, juicy, salty, crunchy, buttermilk-marinated fried chicken. Seriously. Yes, this will sabotage any healthy mission you might be on, but one must indulge from time to time. They have a Southern Fried Chicken Salad, but I have to say I tried it and it didn’t woo me. For me, the best way to experience the fried chicken is as a side. They give you two big pieces for $5 and you can share it with friends… or gluttonously devour it alongside your gigantic salad, which I did yesterday. Classy.

Tender Greens Fried Chicken

Speaking of price, I have to confess that this is not an entirely wallet-friendly establishment, at least not for my budget. The salad I always get is $11, which isn’t terrible on its own. Add a drink, a cowboy cookie (coconut, chocolate chip, walnuts – get it), and tax, and you’ve spent over $15. Of course its worth it, but for the starving artist, that is not an amount of money you want to be spending numerous times per week or even once a week. The upside is that there is no table service, so you don’t have to worry about adding tip on top of that already gouging Los Angeles meal tax. Still, I have spent over $20 here numerous times without batting an eye. Then again, if you’re being frugal and healthy you’ll order just a salad and bring your water bottle… but where’s the fun in that? ;-)

While I love my chicken salad, there is plenty more worth trying here. I’ve already mentioned the cowboy cookie (seriously, get one). My roommate always gets their cobb, my friend Eric is addicted to their tuna nicoise (I swear you won’t find better grilled ahi anywhere), and I’ve even tried their Happy Vegan, which is hearty and satisfying. Whatever you find yourself cozying up to on their menu, it will surely have you coming back again and again… for a salad… who knew?

Tender Greens
6920 Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles 90028

What healthy foods do you crave and where do you get them? I want to know! :-D

Griddled Amazingness

“Sow Your Oats” pancakes

Nothing says brunch like a steaming pile of flapjacks (I love the word “flapjack.” it makes me giggle… flapjack… heehee). I know few people who can resist the call of those light, fluffy, browned discs of joy, particularly hungover at 11am on a Sunday. And let’s be honest, it is classic starving artist food – cheap, filling, and just as easily acquired at 2am as 2pm on any given day. But not just any pancakes will do. Oh no. I take my pancakes seriously. Since I can make killer pancakes at home, if I’m going to go out and spend money on someone else’s, they better be so good that I would slap a baby to get them. Before I will consider ordering pancakes at a restaurant, there are three things I look for:

  1. Whipped butter. None of those foil-wrapped packets. Airy, spreadable butter is crucial for complete pancake coverage. Butter in every bite!
  2. Real maple syrup. You already know my feelings on maple syrup – 100% pure is the only option. The ideal is a restaurant that doesn’t charge you extra for it; then you know they are serious.
  3. Creative pancake options.  While it’s true that you’re only as good as your classic buttermilk recipe, nothing entices me more than creativity. Offer some outrageous pancake option that I HAVE to order because I won’t find it anywhere else. To me, if the restaurant is confident with their recipe, what better way to show it off than all kinds of crazy variations.

So far I have discovered one place in Los Angeles that meets all three of my criteria and that is the Griddle Cafe on Fairfax and Sunset. All of their pancakes are plate-sized monstrosities. They are most famous for their Red Velvet variety, topped with a cream cheese frosting swirl. Divine. Pictured above are the “Sow Your Oats”, which are oatmeal, honey, and cinnamon. Hearty and delicious – totally my thing. I’ve also sampled “Yellow Brick Road” – butterscotch, caramel, and walnuts. Sinfully rich. And guess what: at every single table there is a bottle of pure Vermont maple syrup. Clearly they are trying to get into my pants. The best part? The pancakes are all under $10. Sow Your Oats was $7.95 for a stack of three (there are two more under there!!). I ate maybe a quarter of the plate and took the rest home for two more meals. Starving artist heaven.

While we all love weekend brunch, you’re guaranteed to wait at least 45 minutes on any Saturday or Sunday. Madhouse. Totally worth it, of course, but if you can swing it, I would recommend a weekday after 10am. Same great food, but much more chill. Whenever you decide to go, you are guaranteed a phenomenal pancake experience.

The Griddle Cafe
7916 Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles 90046

Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes

So I have a serious thing for maple. Like, borderline a problem. I went to college in northern Vermont where there are two things you can always count on: Ben & Jerry’s and 100% pure maple syrup. There is no going back from either. Suffice it to say you will never find “pancake syrup” or any bottle in the shape of a large black lady wearing a babushka in my fridge. Naturally, when I discovered that Trader Joe’s now carries organic maple sugar, that is, granulated sugar made from maple syrup, a delicacy I could normally only find on special order for quite a hefty price, I got a little bit too excited. If you haven’t experienced the wonders of maple sugar, I highly recommend it. At only $4.99 for a 6oz pouch, it will bring unique depth of flavor to your recipes for little money. Try substituting it anywhere you would use regular sugar – cakes, cookies, oatmeal, fruit topping. Of course I already have 1000 ideas for creative ways to employ this heavenly substance, but the first I am sharing with you is, as you might have guessed, Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes – a simple, down-home favorite with an elegant twist.

I love sweet potatoes all year round – they are not only satisfying but incredibly healthy. I make a mix of maple sugar and various other spices on my rack. I coat the potatoes with olive oil, salt, pepper, and the spices, and roast them in a pan in the oven until they are deliciously soft and slightly caramelized. Then I give them a quick mash with a bit of maple syrup and butter. Heaven. Leave the skins on for extra texture and nutrition. Though it’s not pictured, I highly recommend topping with pecans before eating. This recipe (or any sweet potato recipe) is hearty enough to serve as a meal on its own. In fact, the picture above was my entire dinner. When you consider that each potato was 69 cents at Trader Joe’s and the rest of the ingredients I already had in my kitchen, I essentially fed myself dinner for $2.07. Yes, I could have had it as a side dish, but truthfully I didn’t need anything else. I was perfectly satisfied without an ounce of guilt. That, friends, is how the starving artist does it.

Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes (Recipe PDF)

Important Note About Spices

The starving artist uses whatever he or she has on hand. This means that you should NOT go running out to buy the spices I list in this (or any) recipe. Use what you have. Having said that, I believe that spices are always a good investment, since you buy them once and will have them at your disposal for numerous recipes. But of course, as is my motto when it comes to cooking, do what you like and don’t apologize. Hmm, this sounds like it could be its own blog post…


No Fuss S’mores Brûlée

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love crème brûlée. I also don’t know anyone who wants to take the time to make it. Custard? Time consuming. Baking ramekins in a water bath? Please. Instead I’ve come up with a perfect starving artist solution: s’mores. When using my new kitchen torch to make the Peeps s’mores from my last recipe post, I started thinking about crème brûlée and the idea of combining the two hit me. All you have to do is prep the layers, fill the ramekin, and torch it. 10 minutes, no baking, no custard-making, and voila, a delicious and elegant treat that no one will be able to resist. In fact I may or may not have made this every day for the past week.

Don’t own any ramekins? Use cereal bowls. Or better yet, double the recipe and make a huge one in a pie plate. Don’t have a kitchen torch? Stash it under your broiler for a minute or two.

Smores Brûlée (Recipe PDF)