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 #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 #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 #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.