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 #14 – Company’s Coming! Pasta Salad

Pasta salad is as flexible as whatever we¬†have¬†in the kitchen at the moment. ¬†However, sometimes we want to kick it up a notch – especially if entertaining. ¬†I needed a recipe that didn’t include average ingredients, so off to the store I went with an open mind! ¬†The ingredients below are simple to make, but together they offer a sophisticated flare that makes this dish not only savory, but it tastes like it was more work than it was by far.

By adding a couple of less typical veggies like heart of palm and roasted red peppers, this pasta salad does not taste like the kitchen sink salads I usually make. ¬†They are good, but this one is one fit for company. ¬†It’s quick and easy and with the main players being jarred, it can be easily made year-round. ¬†The vinaigrette is really simple because the flavors in this dish stand on their own. ¬†Enjoy!

Serves about 8

16oz                       Farfalle (bow tie) pasta

1 pint                     cherry tomatoes; halved

1/2c                       onion; chopped (white, red, or sweet onions or scallions)

9 stalks                  heart of palm (jarred); sliced

2 ¬Ĺ c¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† ¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† artichoke hearts; quartered (preferably jarred in marinated oil)

1c                            roasted red peppers; chopped

1 bunch                  fresh basil; chopped

¬ľ c¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Kalamata or black olives; sliced (optional)

Balsamic Vinaigrette ‚Äď see below

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Balsamic Vinaigrette:

4T                           canola or olive oil

4T                           white balsamic vinegar

1/8t                        black pepper

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Directions:

Boil pasta in salted water al dente (approx. 10 minutes). Drain.

While pasta is boiling, prepare vinaigrette.

Toss warm, drained pasta in a large bowl with vinaigrette.

Once pasta has cooled to room temperature, add remaining ingredients as prepared above.

Chill for several hours.  Toss before serving.

Culinary Quest #13 – Chicken & Grape Salad

There is something really fresh about chicken salad. ¬†It screams summer! ¬†The only bummer is the nutrition factor which gets shot out of the water with¬†mayonnaise. ¬†ūüė¶ I discovered a mayo-less version in Dean & Deluca, but was very skeptical – so I bought some out of curiousty. ¬†Wow! ¬†It was so good! ¬†I had to be convinced…and I was.

Below is my version of chicken & grape salad.  Although consideration needs to be given to refrigeration due to the chicken content, without the mayo I am a little more relieved when taking it to picnics, parties, etc.

The citrus really makes this salad pop, but it doesn’t dominate the flavor. ¬†Also, when shopping, look for firm grapes. ¬†Too soft and it makes the salad texture mushy. ¬†The celery is the crunch; the chicken is the soft; and the grapes are the¬†Goldilocks¬†– just right in the middle.

This cool, summer salad can be served in a bowl on its own, or on a croissant, in a pita or between slices of bread.  The photo above shows this salad with hearty sourdough.

The vinaigrette makes more than enough for this recipe. ¬†Depending on your preference, save some vinaigrette for later (great on lettuce salads or as a marinade) or use it to wet the salad almost like a citrus au jus. ¬†Either way, it’s this easy recipe is a great way to beat the summer heat. ¬†Enjoy!

Chicken & Grape Salad

Ingredients:

3              Chicken breasts

3c            Red grapes

4              Celery stalks

1/4c         Italian (a.k.a. flat) parsley; diced

salt, pepper, and herbs de provence to taste for the chicken

Citrus Vinaigrette

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Citrus Vinaigrette:

2T           rice vinegar

4T           fresh squeezed lemon juice w/ pulp

7T           frozen orange juice concentrate

4T           canola oil

2T           granular sugar

1/2t          salt

1/4t       pepper

Directions:

Trim fat from chicken and rinse under water.

Bake seasoned chicken in a foil-lined baking dish in oven @ 350 for 20 minutes or until done (do not over cook or it will dry out). ¬†OR, boil in a large pot on the stove until done. ¬†(Boiled will produce a milder flavor.) ¬†When I bake, I use a dish that squishes the chicken close together so it doesn’t dry out.

While the chicken cools, prep the grapes and celery (wash first, then cut in large pieces).  Chop parsley.

Make the vinaigrette.

While chicken is still warm, cut into cubes.

Toss everything together in a large bowl. (The warm chicken helps absorb the vinaigrette.)

Let it sit several hours or overnight before serving.  Stir well before serving.

Culinary Quest #12 – Pecan & Pear Salad

Oh man! ¬†These hot temps are really pushing cool food, so here we go with my family’s weekly pick. ¬†Recently, we visited one of our favorite eateries in D.C. called Matchbox. ¬†Great pizza, very cool atmosphere and it is a local favorite. ¬†And, as of this trip, home to an incredible salad.

We walked the National Zoo in record heat for 9 hours before¬†reaching¬†the restaurant and were hot beyond belief! ¬†We were seated¬†immediately, and although we never order appetizers, etc. because of our family budget, we couldn’t pass up a cold salad. ¬†Honestly, we had eaten so much fast food on the trip from vending carts to tent stands to Union Station with its food court, I told my kids the next meal absolutely had to have something green on it.

We all shared Matchbox’s rendition of a pear, pecan and gorgonzola salad. ¬†It was so fresh and chilled and yummy that we splurged and ordered a 2nd one to split! ¬†My kids liked it so much, and I am bored of making the traditional¬†lettuce, tomato, cucumber salad at home, I thought I’d try my own version of theirs. ¬†Glad I did!

This salad is very savory, without having to use a ton of ingredients. ¬†Sometimes, using a few flavorful ingredients packs more of a punch than many mild ingredients. ¬†This is one of those dishes. ¬†The sweet, sugared pecans and pears mixed with the slightly pungent gorgonzola cheese and rich balsamic vinegar makes this salad taste like you worked on it for hours – but you did’t! ¬†(Shh, it’s our secret!) ¬†Great to serve when impressing company or just sitting barefoot in the backyard under a shade tree.

The secret to any salad being a success, in my opinion, is the dressing.  I once paid a hefty price for a salad in a bistro.  I instantly knew at first bite that something was off.  I asked the server if the dressing was made in-house.  She confided in me that they walk across the way to the grocery store and buy a common brand by the bottle off the shelf.  What?  I knew I tasted mass production in there.  It killed the experience for me.

Below is super tasty summer salad that can be a starter, side or add protein to it (fish, chicken or steak) and you’ve got an easy one-dish meal. ¬†The dressing is so simple, don’t settle for bottled. ¬†Your taste buds, and budget, will thank you. ¬†It takes me about 3 minutes to whip it up, seriously!

To mention about the sugared pecans, traditional candied pecans (often made at Christmastime) call for double the sugar and less cinnamon. ¬†Because these are just one element to the salad, I was able to half the amount of sugar and double the cinnamon. ¬†Just another tip to reduce calories. ¬†We didn’t miss the sugar at all, and the extra cinnamon was tasted without overpowering the pecans. ¬†When I bought the pecans, I used 2, 6oz bags of pieces. ¬†This gave me an extra cup left over to either save or let my family indulge. ūüôā

Also, I bought the field greens by the bag (3 bags) at a reduced price because of the sell by date.  I was using them the same day, and the sell by date was still 2 days off, yet I received $1 each bag.  Every little bit helps!  The greens were perfectly fresh.

When cooking at home, a great advantage is tweaking dishes to your preferences. ¬†Although Matchbox’s salad was delicious, for still far less than buying it there, I was able to add extra pecans to some, extra gorgonzola to others, and still extra pears to others depending on my family’s taste.

Enjoy a taste of summer! ~ Kristi

Pecan and Pear Salad

Serves 6

Salad

15oz                       mixed field greens

7oz                          gorgonzola cheese; crumbled

3                              pears; sliced thin

2c                            sugared pecans (see below)

Honey Balsamic Dressing (see below)

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Sugared Pecans

2c                          pecan pieces

1                             egg white

1T                           water

1/2c                       sugar

1/2t                        salt

1t                          cinnamon

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Honey Balsamic Dressing

1/2c                        canola oil

4T                           balsamic vinegar

4T                           honey

1/4t                        salt

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Directions:

#1¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Pecans ‚Äď whip egg white and water until foamy.¬† Add pecan pieces to froth & mix.¬† Add remaining ingredients and mix until completely coated.¬† Spread on parchment paper-covered baking sheet & bake @ 275 for 50min ‚Äď tossing twice while baking.¬† Slide parchment off of baking sheet and onto counter and allow pecans to cool. Set aside.¬† (These can be made a few days in advance. Store in airtight container.)

#2¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Dressing ‚Äď mix all dressing ingredients in blender, Magic Bullet, or food processor until whipped.¬† Set aside. (Can be made at least a week in advance. Keep refrigerated.)

#3¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Salad ‚Äď when ready to serve, toss lettuce with dressing in large bowl with lid.¬† Shake until evenly coated.¬† Layer on plate: lettuce, gorgonzola, pecans and then fan pears around the edge of the plate.

Culinary Quest #11 – Corn & Basil Salad

We cook what is in season. ¬†This keeps the freshest ingredients on hand and at their peak flavor. ¬†The other day, I bought corn on the cob. ¬†I wasn’t sure what I was¬†going¬†to do with it, but it’s¬†something¬†we enjoy regardless, so I took advantage of the sale price.

Tired of steaming and grilling, I wanted a fresh taste for summer to help beat the heat.  With the addition of a few other natural ingredients, a brand new salad emerged as one of our favorites!

The tomatoes, basil and balsamic vinegar blend well with the sweet corn and cucumbers.  Add a little kick with red onion and a peppery vinaigrette and this yields a sweet and savory flavor that is delicious.

My daughter asked me why I didn’t just use canned corn. ¬†There is a huge difference in fresh corn and canned corn,¬†especially¬†when serving the dish cold. ¬†Go the extra step and use fresh corn. ¬†You’l be glad you did! ¬†My son kept asking what the incredibly sweet taste was. ¬†I replied, Simply the corn! ¬†This dish lets the corn brag on itself with its crisp, sugary goodness.

This recipe combines the corn and pepper with salad ingredients and¬†everything¬†pulls together as a salad or side dish that tastes a lot more complicated than it is to make. ¬†And, its variety of color shows off a great presentation on the table that you will be proud to offer. ¬†I hope you enjoy it as much as my family does. ¬†Easy, fast and flavorful! ¬†Just they way we like it. ūüôā

Corn & Basil Salad

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients:

5 ears                    fresh corn on the cob

¬Ĺ ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†small red onion; diced

5                              vine-ripened tomatoes; diced

1 bunch                   basil; chopped

1                              cucumber; peeled & diced

Dressing:

3t                            white balsamic vinegar

2T                           olive oil

1/4t                        salt

1/4t                        black pepper

1/4t                        sugar

1 clove                  fresh garlic; crushed

Directions:

Steam, roast or grill shucked corn.  Cool to touch.

Using a knife, cut the corn off of the cob and place in a large mixing bowl.

Add remaining ingredients each as prepared above.

Combine dressing ingredients in a container with a lid and shake well.

Pour over salad and thoroughly mix everything together.

Chill until cold.

Culinary Quest #5 – Couscous Salad

It’s warming up outside so we’re cooling off with another cold salad perfect for spring and summer. ¬†This is my version of Dean & Deluca’s couscous salad. ¬†Light and healthy, it hits the spot.

Kristi’s Couscous Salad

(serves 6-8)

1 box                     Israeli/pearl couscous (8.8oz)

1 bunch                 green onions, chopped small

1/4c                       almonds; slivered

1/4c                       pineapple tidbits

1/2c                       dried cranberries

1/4c                       pine nuts; toasted in a scant amount of olive oil

11oz                       mandarin oranges; packed in pear juice…drained

1t                            dried parsley

1                             sweet apple; finely diced

1 small carton         pomegranate seeds

3oz                         vinaigrette (see below)

Couscous Vinaigrette***

5T rice vinegar

6T fresh squeezed lemon juice (or orange juice, if preferred)

3T canola oil

2T granular sugar

¬ľt salt

Directions:

Cook couscous & drain.  While it’s hot, toss with vinaigrette.

Once couscous is room temperature, add remaining ingredients & toss.

Cover and chill until cold.

*** The vinaigrette makes 6oz, but 3oz is plenty for this salad.  Save the other 3oz for other salads, marinade, etc.