Culinary Quest #18 – BLT Salad

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Who doesn’t LOVE a BLT sandwich (or anything with bacon, frankly)? It’s one my all-time favorites. But, I’m trying to watch my bread intake so I can’t remember the last time I got to sink my teeth into one of these little beauties. ūüė¶

Standing in the produce aisle the other day, I tried to think of a salad to go with the soup I was making for dinner. One of my family’s favorite salads is¬†a Caesar salad, but that also means we have it fairly often. Spring-boarding from the Caesar, I took its¬†elements and swapped them out for new ingredients and voila! The idea of a BLT in salad form was created right there between the bananas and broccoli.

It tastes exactly like a BLT sandwich! Seriously! Without the bread. ūüėČ It’s light¬†and refreshing, and the sweet tomatoes compliment the salty bacon. The ranch dressing substitutes for the mayo perfectly. Just in time for spring and summer, this salad is a new favorite.

One of my teenagers said to me today that he literally dreamed about this salad after having it last night and that it was on his mind all day today at school. Who knew? Score!!!

It’s so easy it’s almost embarrassing. Here we go…

Ingredients:

* 1 bag of Romaine lettuce (I mixed it with a bag of spring mix lettuce for a variety of color and texture)

* 1 pkg thick cut bacon

* 1 pint grape (or cherry) tomatoes; halved

* 1 bunch green onions; chopped

* 1 cucumber; diced

* 6oz¬†of ranch salad dressing (we use Marzetti’s simply dressed ranch)

* croutons (optional)

Directions:

Cook bacon in oven at 350 for about 30 minutes. Flip it over and cook another 10 or 15 depending on desired crispiness.

While bacon is cooking, toss remaining ingredients together in a large bowl (EXCEPT DRESSING!).

Once bacon is drained and cooled, chop it and add to bowl.

Right before serving, toss salad with dressing. Serve immediately.

Yields 4-6 servings.

Enjoy!

Culinary Quest #17 – Bacon & tomato pasta salad

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Recently I visited Fresh Market, a high-end grocery store. They are known for their fresh products, including a delicious deli.

I purchased a small cup of their bacon & tomato pasta salad and liked it. However, I found it needed a few tweaks, so below is my version of their pasta salad.

The tweaks: Store-bought salads are mostly pasta (because it’s cheaper and goes farther). I prefer¬†to increase the other ingredients to reduce bad carbs, increase good cards and increase protein. I also added a couple of ingredients that bring natural sweetness (peas) and a warm, nutty flavor (pine nuts) to this light dish. I also substituted white wine vinegar for balsamic vinegar because it gives just an extra spark of fruity bite¬†that regular wine vinegar doesn’t offer.

We rarely use mayonnaise in our home and most times the jar expires before we can finish it. But, inching closer to summer, sometimes mayo adds a creamy texture to pasta salads that oils simply can’t do.

This dish is served up just in time for Easter brunch, a lazy Saturday (as in our family’s case today :)), lunchboxes for work or school, parties, or a savory snack. Enjoy!

Bacon & Tomato Pasta Salad

Ingredients:

1# boxed pasta; cooked al dente, drained (any kind will work, we had rigatoni on hand)

2 pkgs thick-cut bacon; cooked & chopped

2c green onions; chopped (1 bunch)

1 1/2c celery (approx 4 stalks); chopped

2 pints grape tomatoes; cut in halves

1c pine nuts

2c frozen peas (use them straight out of the freezer)

1t salt

1/2t pepper

1T + 1t white balsamic vinegar

3/4c – 1c mayo (for this recipe I used Duke’s regular mayo); measure to preference

Directions:

Bake bacon in oven at 375 for about 30-45 minutes until done.

While bacon is baking, boil pasta (add salt to pot) for 12-14 minutes.

While both of those are rockin’ & rollin’ prepare remaining ingredients and put them in a large bowl.

Add cooked bacon.

While pasta is still slightly warm, mix into bowl.

Store in fridge. That’s it! ūüôā

 

Culinary Quest #10 – Loaded Baked Potato Casserole

Looking for a crowd-pleaser that won’t break your budget? ¬†This recipe isn’t rocket science, but it tastes out of this world (sorry, I couldn’t resist that one). ¬†Sometimes¬†I want to bring a dish to an event that I¬†absolutely¬†know everyone will like, but after scouring cookbooks and the Internet it usually winds up costing a fortune! ¬†Not this time…

Who doesn’t like a baked potato with cheese, bacon and butter? ¬†Baked potato “bars” are good and all, but the foil-wrapped potatoes can get messy from trying to squeeze in the toppings. ¬†Plus, the toppings always look a little – ¬†well, tired. ¬†This way, you throw it all together, bake it and ta-da! ¬†You have a nice dish for your family or to take with you. ¬†Great for picnics, dinners, brunch or stay-home movie night. ¬†It is also good as a side dish when grilling – one less thing to tend to when family and friends are over.

It’s extra budget-friendly if you shop sales and get the cheese buy-one get-one free and bacon tends to¬†regularly¬†go on sale depending on the brand. ¬†The rest is nominal.

Loaded Baked Potato Casserole

8                            Russet baking potatoes

1/2 stick                 salted butter

1/4c                       milk (we use 2%)

8oz                         sour cream (we use reduced fat)

1/2t                        black pepper (to taste)

1T                           salt (to taste)

1 pkg                     center-cut bacon

1 bunch                  green onions; diced

2c                           shredded cheddar cheese (Any favorite variety.  I used Triple Cheese by Kraft (Vermont white cheddar, sharp cheddar & mild cheddar w/cream cheese added)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place bacon on vented baking sheet and bake until done.  Drain fat on paper towel.

Peel, halve and boil potatoes until a fork can easily go through them.

Drain and place potatoes in a mixing bowl.

Add butter, milk, sour cream, salt & pepper.

Mix with electric mixer on medium until creamy (no lumps).

Bacon should now be cooled.  Using a large kitchen knife, dice bacon on cutting board into bits.

Blend in green onions and bacon with large spoon into the potato mixture.

Lightly grease a 9×13 baking dish.

Spoon potato mixer into the dish and spread evenly.

Top with cheeses and bake @ 350 about 15-20 minutes until cheese is melted and it is hot all the way through.

***This dish can be made a day ahead.  Simply hold back the cheese, bake the potato mixture COVERED (to keep from drying out) until hot, then add the cheese and bake a few more minutes until it melts.

***For added flare as a dinner side dish, instead of using a baking dish, use individual crocks Рfill, top with cheese & bake as directed.

 This is what it looks like prior to adding the cheese.