Treasure Chest Thursday: Any Season Salad

IMG_3737Being a salad person, I have about ten salads that we rotate through as main meal salads depending on the season and the local produce available.  In a recent post, I told of never having made a chopped salad until recently.  I need to apologize as apparently I told a small little story.  I have been making a chopped style salad for years without realizing it and this is a salad that can be made any season.

Many years ago, when valentine’s day was more about two of us than three of us, I planned out Valentine’s Date.  It was actually an evening at home.  I happened upon a cookbook that sort of set the evenings plans into play.  Intercourses, yes go ahead laugh a little as we have, but that is the name of the book.  It is a cookbook that focuses on aphrodisiac foods and recipes that incorporate them.   I am not sure how much I believe in the power of food in romance, but the book includes a lot of my favorite foods – avocado, chilis, pine nuts, strawberries, and more.

Anyway cute little me thought how fun to cook a meal based on some of these recipes and give the book as a gift.

Over the years we have tried several of the recipes in the book.  There are others that I have not been brave enough to try, partly due to their uniqueness and my uneasiness that Mr. Mixture wouldn’t enjoy.  Mr. Mixture’s taste have definitely grown and he is always willing to try new things I make, so maybe I will get adventurous.  Anyway one of the first recipes, I tried was a salad that included pine nuts.

Pine nuts are said to be “a deft kernel of love.”  Apparently the northwestern Himalayas are said to have one of the highest birthrates and they relate it to pine nuts and their power to increase fertility.

Being that I can never follow a recipe or so Mr. mixture seems to think, dinner became this one night.  It began as a side salad, but I turned it into a wonderful main meal.  A salad that would become a treasure chest recipe for us.

Any Season Salad

3-4 Cups Mixed Greens, Dark Leaf Lettuce, or Butter Lettuce, Chopped

1 avocado, peeled and chopped

1 tomato, chopped

4 Tbsp. Toasted Pine Nuts

1/2 cup Alfalfa Sprouts

1/4 cup minced Red Onion

1/2 cucumber, peeled and chopped

3 Tbsp. Mozzarella Cheese, grated or chopped

1/4 cup Cilantro, chopped

1-2 Chicken Breast, grilled or baked and cut into chunks*

* I marinate the chicken in olive oil, fresh ground black pepper, dried basil, lemon juice

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Toss all ingredients into a large salad bowl and toss well.  You can either add the chicken to the salad or top individual salads as desired.  This salad is also versatile in the moisture from the vegetables allows the salad to toss nicely and decrease the amount of dressing needed.  You can choose to toss with the dressing to serve or allow individuals to dress to their desired taste.

Dressing 

2 Tbsp White Wine Vinegar

4 tsp Dijon Mustard

2 tsp Honey

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

6 Tbsp Olive Oil

Whisk all ingredients together.

Printable Recipe and Nutrition info here

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Save the Salt for the Margarita Glass

Mexican food is always a go to in our house.  With Cinco de Mayo just over a week away, I thought I would share our favorite taco recipe.  Tacos are a great meal since everyone can adapt them to their own taste and they provide a good serving of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants depending on your chosen toppings.

Armed with the following ingredients you can have a healthy made from scratch taco dinner ready in under 30 minutes.  I am not a salt person and though every recipe calls for it the only time I tend to use salt is when baking and even then I may not use the entire amount.  I have never had a problem with salt except I see no reason to add the extra sodium to your diet and so many recipes and foods can be enjoyed just as well by adjusting the seasonings and omitting the salt.  I save the salt for where it is enjoyed on the rim of a margarita glass to accompany my mexican dinner.

In order to make these tacos you need to take a minute to get your taco seasoning ready.  Here is my basic recipe.  It is perfect for seasoning about one pound of meat.

Taco Seasoning

1 Tbsp chili powder                                                  1/4 tsp oregano

1/4 tsp garlic powder                                               1/2 tsp paprika

1/4 tsp onion powder                                               1 1/2 tsp cumin

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper, ground                            1/2 tsp black pepper, ground*

In a small bowl, mix together all the ingredients and set aside.  

* I use rainbow pepper since that is my standard black pepper mix in the house

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Tacos

1 lb. ground meat ( beef, chicken, or turkey)

Taco Seasoning Mix

2/3 cup water

1 Tbsp olive oil

In a medium size skillet pour the olive oil and heat over medium to medium high temperature.  Add your meat and brown, breaking it into small pieces as it cooks.  Meanwhile you can begin preparing your toppings.  Once the meat is brown you add the taco seasoning mix, 2/3 cup water and stir to coat the meat.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low to simmer for about 5 minutes or until the rest of your dinner is ready.

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In several small bowls place your toppings on the table or a designated area in the kitchen so everyone can build their own taco.

 

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Toppings:

Spinach or other dark green, torn or cut into small strips or pieces

Diced pepper – any color or combination of colors

Diced onion

Cheese – I am lazy so it is not shredded in our house, but rather cut into small pieces about 1/4-1/2″ in size

Diced Tomatoes

Guacamole or chopped avocado

Salsas, and Sour Cream – as far as salsa we use a store bought generally.  It is great when made fresh, but we use salsa on a lot of items and finding ripe tomatoes to make it can be difficult certain times of the year.  There are a lot on the market many of which have very few preservatives or none at all.  We also enjoy corn salsa, a product from Trader Joe’s that is a staple in our refrigerator.

You can use whatever type of taco shell you prefer though the soft Whole Wheat/Whole Grain are the healthier option.

Taco

Everything is ready and set out, so call the troops to dinner and have everyone build their own and enjoy.  Kids love this because they get to help make their dinner.

 

Kale Salad with Parmesan & Walnuts

 

Kale Salad with Walnuts

I love taking recipes that have been tested and tried and altering them slightly to make them more to our taste, or at least fit our taste at a given meal.  This recipe was adapted from one recently published by Smitten Kitchen.  I make a basic kale salad that combines lemon juice and olive oil as many homemade dressing do, and Little Miss Mixture has always requested dried cranberries tossed in hers.  So when I saw this recipe and realized our meal actually included raisins on the night I was going to try the Smitten Kitchen Kale recipe, I decided to take advice from Little Miss Mixture and the result was a very well received accompaniment to our dinner.

 

Kale Salad with Parmesan & Walnuts

 

 

 

½ cup walnut halves

 

¼ cup dried cranberries

 

1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar

 

1 Tbsp water

 

¼ cup panko bread crumbs

 

1 garlic clove, minced

 

3 Tbsp. olive oil

 

2 cups Kale, washed, and chopped

 

¼ cup parmesan cheese shavings

 

Juice of 1 lemon

 

 

 

  1. Prepare walnuts: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Toast on a baking sheet for about 10 minutes. Allow to cool.
  2. Prepare cranberries: Ina small saucepan over low heat, bring white wine vinegar, water, and cranberries to a simmer for at least 5 minutes.
  3. Prepare breadcrumbs: Toast breadcrumbs, minced garlic, and 1 Tbsp of olive oil in a skillet, cast iron works great.
  4. Put prepared kale in a bowl and add walnuts, cranberries. Add remaining olive oil and juice of the lemon. Toss to coat kale. Add shaved Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs just before serving and toss again. Enjoy.

Kale Salad with Parmesan & Walnuts

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My kind of comfort food

Fancy Grilled Cheese

Yesterday I spoke to soon.  I indicated Spring had sprung, but then I stepped outside and it was another cold and wet day. Let me remind you it is now early April and I have had enough. We had a glimpse of spring, almost summer with temperatures in the upper 70’s to low 80’s and then what happen not even out of the 50’s, overcast, with periods of rain. I can remember days in March when we wore tank tops and one spring break I broke out the sprinkler it was so warm. Not so this year each week for the past few weeks we have had a glimpse of spring and then old man winter shows himself again. Weather like this does not help me motivate to get out of my desk chair and workout, but it does wonders for my dreaming of cheesy goodness. The dog desperately sits by the window dreaming that I will take her for a walk. Sorry but under 60 and wet that is not happening the most you get is a quick jaunt to relieve yourself.

I have always been a weather checker, not sure that is a phrase, but you understand. When it was the weather channel I would wait for local on the 8, now a days I check my phone, ipad, or whatever is handy to see the next ten hours or ten days. When I begin thinking about meals for the week, which I am constantly doing but typically focus on it on one or two times a week for the next 4 days or so.  I always need to know the weather. This week again it showed cold and wet though never leaving the 50’s was colder than expected.

I am a big grilled cheese fan and can have it a number of different ways, but remember I said my daughter was adventurous with food. She is, but ironically she was not a fan of grilled cheese until I made it fancy. So now when she asks for grilled cheese she expects it to be on the lines of something like this
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Basically a fancy grilled cheese on this particular evening consist of multi grain bread spread nicely with arugula pesto on piece of bread. I love pesto but to lather both slices of bread with this spicy concoction could be a little overpowering. Depending on your cheese taste, Little Miss Mixture prefers Munster to Fontina each sandwich receives a slice atop the pesto and one on the other slice. Before closing the sandwich top one slice of cheese with some Caramelized onions. Close and toss into the cast iron skillet that has butter simmering and cook until perfectly browned and cheese melts.
Flip to ensure both sides are nicely browned, almost burnt if like me you are trying to manage the kids, the dog, and getting the final items for dinner this will happen without trying. Enjoy warm.

The pesto that apparently transforms a regular grilled cheese sandwich into a fancy grilled cheese and a food Little Miss Mixture will eat is simple. I must warn you if you are compelled to measure everything and get anxiety reading about recipes that require a dash, pinch, or to taste, stop reading now. Go find a blog that may be better suited for you. I am not a person who measures. On occasion the first time I make a recipe I measure, or at least some of the ingredients, but as a general rule I do not measure. In fact I am believer that you can bake and not measure perfectly. More about that another day.

So if you want to enjoy a Fancy Spread here is a basic guideline. This recipe was adapted from http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/arugula_pesto/

Arugula Pesto 

1 1/2 – 2 cups Arugula
1/4 cup Olive Oil
2 Tbsp (small handful) Walnuts
1 garlic clove
1/3 cup Parmesan Cheese

Toss all ingredients into a food processor or vitamix and blend until desired consistency. NOTE: If using Vitamix be sure to put the olive oil in first and the arugula on top and slowly increase your variable speed. Taste and season with pepper and salt, if you must – this is a rarity in my recipes. I only use salt in a handful of items such as baking that I feel it is necessary. Use immediately or refrigerate until ready to use. Pesto can also be frozen in small batches for use at a later date. I find the small mason jars are fabulous for putting just under 1/2 cup and thawing whenever you want a fancier sandwich.


Pepper Steak, Not

Last week I introduced treasure chest Thursday and provided you the details and recipe of one of those meals that has stood the test of time in our meal rotation. I say meal rotation, but I have never been very good with that. There are too many recipes and things I want to try to stick with a rotation. However there are some foods that pop up more than others. The named offenders tend to fall into the categories of Mexican, Pizza, or whatever kick I get on. I think Little Miss Mixture said it best the other day “I could eat Mexican everyday.” Combine that with the household meal planner who could eat pizza or mexican everyday as well and you get the idea of what we eat most.  I have been on a kick this winter, yes you know the one that seemed to never end, I have been on a big grilled cheese kick.  Can you blame me rain, snow, and cold what else does a person crave but warm gooey comfort. If you read earlier post, you know I would have easily been satisfied with a chocolate chip cookie, but as much as I love them they do not constitute a meal. Now that it is April and we are officially in National Grilled Cheese Month you can expect a couple of creations to be posted soon.

Today’s treasure chest post comes from many years ago. I recently pulled this recipe out and decided to try it again and it was a success. I am calling this recipe Pepper Chicken. My version anyway. It is really a take off of a number of asian inspired recipes circling the internet called Pepper Steak. However this recipe was one we had when I was a kid. It was one of the recipes I remember my dad making before he became the primary cook in the house. It was a somewhat seasonal dish since it uses green onions and tomatoes, but feel free to enjoy anytime of year.

Why Pepper Chicken? Well I remember “red meat was bad” at some point during my upbringing. Not sure the exact year, but mom changed most of our meals to chicken and turkey based. Thus the turkey burger became popular to this small town girl. So many recipes can be made with substitutions as I am sure if you prefer tofu it would work well too. Personally that is one food I have never craved nor been a fan of except in Pad Thai. Something about the way the Thai restaurant can hid it in with the chicken and shrimp to provide a perfect balance of flavor. I mentioned this was asian inspired which may be why any protein can be used. Typical chinese menus always seems to let the customer pick their protein in their dish. Don;t get me wrong you will see some meat recipes come through on occasion. I do eat meat, though it is not something I cook often. Many of our meals are meatless and those that include a meat tend to have chicken, turkey, or fish.

As with all recipes, I will try to provide basic measurements, but really I only use a recipe as a guide. There are certain ingredients I measure though I am notorious for measuring and then adding a little more.  I used roughly what the recipe called for in onion, peppers, and tomatoes, but recipes like this are perfect for adding more or less to accommodate your family. Also when tomatoes and peppers, are ins season the more variety, the more flavor, the more color, the more antioxidants.

Pepper Chicken

1 lb. boneless chicken cut in ½ inch strips
1 Tbsp. Paprika
2 Tbsp. Butter
2 Cloves Garlic, crushed
2 Tbsp. Cornstarch
¼ c. Water
2-3 Tomatoes, cut into slices
1 ½ c. Beef Broth
1 c. Green Onions, sliced
2 Peppers, cut in strips
¼ c. Soy Sauce

Pound meat and then cut into strips. Sprinkle chicken with paprika and allow to stand while preparing the other ingredients.
Using a large skillet, cook the chicken in butter. Add garlic and broth and cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir in green onions and peppers. Cover and cook for an additional 5 minutes.
Blend together cornstarch, water, and soy sauce. Stir liquid into the meat mixture. Cook, stirring until broth becomes clear and thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, and stir gently until well combined.  Serve over rice

This recipe is great and always enjoyed though it is higher in sodium than most things I make since it includes several high sodium ingredients. Want to make it better check out how to make your own beef stock and use low sodium soy sauce.

I apologize for not having a picture of this colorful dish. I need to work on my photography skills with food. It is harder than you think.

Don’t forget today is National Chocolate Mousse Day. I tried to make an imitation chocolate mousse smoothie for Little Miss Mixture to start the day. Let’s just say I will not be posting the results.   Don’t worry though this sweet tooth will not go without some real Chocolate Mousse.  Recipe and picture to come later.