Y is for Yogurt

I know I’m the last one to know about this place– today I went to Yogurtland for my first time. I love it! If you’re not familiar with Yogurtland, it’s a yogurt store designed for control freaks. It’s DIY (almost) all the way. The only thing you don’t do is ring up your purchase. You choose the size, how many flavors, how high above the rim to take the yogurt and how many toppings you want (can fit) on your yogurt.  You pay by weight so the more you lump on, the more it will cost you. Choose from 16 different flavors (tart and original options)–like Peanut Butter, Mango, Toasted Coconut, Madagascar Vanilla, Red Velvet Cupcake Batter, Vanilla Wafer, etc. They also have seasonal flavors like Blood Orange, Pumpkin Pie and Candy Cane. Pick from a wide array of the usual toppings like fruit, candy, granola, cereal and cookies. The yogurt pictured above was huge–four flavors and two toppings and cost $3.81. It was totally worth it. I will definitely be returning to Yogurtland.

Just one word of advice–eat quickly! I learned this the hard way. Pumpkin Pie, Madagascar Vanilla, Peanut Butter and Toasted Coconut might be excellent on their own, but they are most definitely not excellent when pooled together at the bottom of the cup!

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C is for Cafe Rio

Driving in Costa Mesa the other day,  I was thrilled to see a Cafe Rio sign shining out like a beacon of yumminess.  Cafe Rio is a Utah-based chain of Mexican restaurants with locations all over the West. The decor is kitschy, the food is delicious! It’s been compared to Chipotle or Baja Fresh, but what sets Cafe Rio apart from Chipotle (and the like) is the handmade corn and flour tortillas. Their sauces and guacamole are also freshly prepared.

You’ll find all the usual Mexican dishes–tacos, enchiladas, burritos, tostadas and quesadillas–on Cafe Rio’s menu. Using fresh ingredients, they make your meal right in front of you.

My favorite thing on the menu is the Shredded Chicken Salad–a handmade tortilla, rice, beans, chicken, lettuce, pico, guacamole, tortilla strips, cojita cheese, cilantro and lime and your choice of a creamy tomatillo house or cilantro-lime vinegrette dressing (both are delicious).

Cafe Rio is famous for their Sweet Pork Barbacoa–it’s excellent in salads, tacos and burritos. The fire-grilled steak and chicken are also really good. The fire-grilled salmon tacos are also really tasty. I also love their fresh drinks–I’m partial to the Raspberry Lemon-Lime, but the Horchata is also good.

The line is usually about 10 minutes at lunch and 15 minutes at dinner. Most items run between $6 and $8. Make sure to ask for a Frequent Diner Card. If you buy 10 meals, you get the 11th free!

Don’t listen to the detractors who dismiss Cafe Rio is faux-Mexican food. I don’t think it matters if it’s authentic when it tastes so good!

**Helpful hint – if you go at dinnertime, especially on the weekend, have one of your party hold a table while someone else orders.

Orange County locations:

Cafe Rio
24312 Rockfield Blvd.
Lake Forest
949-334-9292

Cafe Rio
253 E. 17th Street
Costa Mesa
949-335-6800

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C is for Coleslaw (and Cornbread)

One of my favorite places to eat in Orange County is Bandera in Corona Del Mar. They offer classic American fare — rotisserie chicken, mashed potatoes, cornbread, ribs, steak– but kicked up a notch. Everything there is good but my favorite is the BBQ Beef Ribs. They are decadent. The ribs come with two sides–garlic mashed potatoes and roasted peanut coleslaw. The potatoes are great, the coleslaw is amazing. I love it (and I don’t even like coleslaw.) I have a recipe for Bandera-esque coleslaw and I thought I would share. Bandera’s cornbread is also a fan and family favorite. I’ve included that recipe, too. Now if I can just figure out how to make their ribs…

ROASTED PEANUT COLESLAW (Like Bandera’s)

2 cups baby spinach, broken up
3/4 head green cabbage, thinly sliced
1/2 jicama, thinly sliced
3 green onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro

Mix all above ingredients, then add the vinaigrette.

FOR THE VINAIGRETTE:
Add the following ingredients to a small food processor and grind it up. It’s best if you let it sit in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

1/2 cup peanut oil
1/4 cup roasted peanuts
Juice of 1/2 lime
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon fresh minced ginger
1 tablespoon sugar
1 green onion
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoon salt

You can of course vary any of the above ingredients according to personal preference. It’s the closest I’ve found without actually going to Bandera—but you should go sometime, the ribs are worth it!

CORNBREAD (Like Bandera’s)

1 cup butter, melted*
1 cup granulated sugar*
4 eggs
1 (15 oz) can cream style corn
1/2 (4 oz) can chopped green chili peppers, drained
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking dish or better yet a 12-inch cast iron skillet.

In a large bowl, beat together butter and sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time. Blend in cream corn, chiles, Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheese.

In a separate bowl, stir together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture to corn mixture; stir until smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted into center of the pan comes out clean. If using the skillet – watch carefully as edges may brown too much and time should be under an hour.

*Some think these quantities make it too rich. Use 1/2 cup butter and less sugar to taste.

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G is for Groupon

Do you know about Groupon? I fell in love with it when I lived in New York. Groupon features a daily deal on the best stuff to do, see, eat, and buy in cities in the US and Canada. You can sign up for daily email alerts or visit the site each day. These deals can be tricky – first it has to meet a quota. This means the deal is not “good” until a certain number of people sign up for it and buy it – collective buying power at work. If that number is not reached, you are not charged. If it is met, then the deal is available to all!

Example of a Groupon:

Today in Orange County, you pay $49 for Three Hours of House Cleaning from Keep It Clean. The deal was tipped when 15 bought (it went live) and now there are 660 buys! There are much cheaper deals, too. Recently they offered a $11 ticket for A Taste of Newport (retail value $22), a $4 ticket for the Sawdust Festival (retail value $7) and $10 for $20 worth of Home-Improvement Supplies at ACE Hardware.

If you are traveling, check out Groupon (for the city you will be visiting) before you leave – you might find a great deal you can use while there!

This video explains a little more about the program.

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B is for Blog Awards Nominee

It’s time for the annual  “You’ve Just Been Spotted” OC Blog Awards. These awards are sponsored by one of my favorite local blogs, Just Spotted. If you’re not familiar with it, be sure to check it out! It’s a great blog place to find what to do, where to go and where to shop in Orange County.

Orange County A to Z was nominated in two categories:

  • Kid & Family Site
  • Favorite Local Blog

I’m so excited about our nominations! Now I know why movie stars always say, “It’s an honor just to be nominated.” It really is! If you like the blog please go over to Just Spotted to VOTE!

While you’re there check out the other blogs that were nominated. There are some really great local blogs (and remember to check out Just Spotted)!

Voting ends Sunday, September 12th, at 11:59PM PST.

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F is for Flip flops

I live in flip flops and so I’m always on the lookout for a comfortable, stylish pair. I still love my Havaianas but this summer I was converted to the Sanuk Yoga Mat Sandals. They are easily the most comfortable flip flops I’ve ever put on. The squishy, yoga mat footbed is pure heaven. They come in several colors, even animal prints, and have cute gingham lining. They are available at most local surf shops and online. Here’s to happy feet!

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L is for Library

One of the things my brother told me when I moved down here was that I had to check out the main branch of the Newport Beach Public Library. He jokingly referred to it as an OC hot spot. He wasn’t wrong–the place is always jumping. It has a wide selection of books, movies, music not to mention it’s just a nice place to hang out. They always have something going on. They have storytime for kids. There are lectures, art exhibits, small business workshops, musical events, etc. One of my favorite things is their “What’s Cooking” events. They are a series of gourmet culinary programs featuring some of the top chefs in Orange County. The tickets are $20 per person and can be purchased online or at any NBPL location. The library also offers computer classes like “How to Sell on Ebay” and “Advanced Google.” Many of the classes are free.

One thing I really like is the amazing selection of DVDs at the Main Branch–new releases, classic films, foreign films, documentaries and obscure British TV shows. New releases are $1/day.

The main branch also has a Friends of the Library Bookstore inside that sells gently used books for cheap.

But, as they used to say on Reading Rainbow, you don’t have to take my word for it.

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