Tag Archives: salads

Cookies and Salads

23 Aug

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The other day, Rob and I did some Back To School grocery shopping, and it happened to be a date-night of sorts. We had already eaten dinner, and flashbacks of our Coos Bay days of taking a stroll down the fun-house halls of Walmart at 10 pm rushed in our minds as we stood in the Publix cookie aisle with two other couples. Hushed conversations evolved and we noticed the other couples, slowly and closely meandering, stopping and short-pointing with only a pinky, then whispering some more, were having the exact same musings as Rob and me.

“Remember these?”

“Oh, I ate a box of those ones once.”

“Huh, the packaging has changed on these ones.”

“Strawberry Oreos? Really?”

“Ooo these look so goooooood.”

Then, super-stealthily that short-pointing pinky turned into a swift grabbing hand snatching that Back To School treat. One couple got always-recognizable-even-when-cleverly-stuffed-under-the-16oz.-bag-of-baby-kale Pepperidge Farms cookies, the other couple further down settled with an audible let’s-be-responsible sigh on a cookie/cracker thing, and Rob and I chose Fig Newtons. The original. Always a Back To School classic, at least in my lunch box.

Seams harmless, right? Then, what’s with all the whispering and sideways glances? After further investigation of our late-night cookie aisle recon, this Back To School treat shopping was not for the kids. It was for the adults.

Who knows what happened to the other couples, but Rob and I waited until we got home (there is some restraint), and I dove into the little squares of fruit and cake. After a couple, the “fix” was over, and all was right and just in the world.

Teaching Kindergarten can be a different kind of crazy at beginning of the year, and even in this hot, hot, hot Jacksonville heat, a craving for comfort food spikes at the end of the day. Rather than turning to the cookies, I’ve actually found myself becoming increasingly adventurous with salads. Yes, salads. With the help of our farm basket, I have been experimenting with hot and cold salads, sweet and savory salads, grain and paleo salads, and many more. Come to realize it, more often than not, I have written about salads throughout the years. Well, hold on to your carrots, my friends, cause here comes another.

I called this the Chop Chop Salad, before I realized that there were actually many variations of an actual salad called a Chop Chop. So, I guess I’m adding another variation to the many recipes out there (although I’d like to continue to live in my ignorance that I actually came up with the really cool name). Literally, take every single vegetable that you love and toss it in a bowl. Add lettuce or any other green you’d like, or not. Add grains like quinoa, barley, or spelt, or not. Add a dried fruit or nuts, or not. You get the picture. Pour the contents on a big cutting board. With two chef’s knives, chop chop the heck out of it. Pour it all back into the bowl. Top with your favorite dressing. Voila! Chop Chop Salad! For such an incredibly unrefined technique, it creates such a beautiful presentation, and it’s fabulous for fun entertaining. Here’s how I made mine (everything was just a small handful, fresh and raw, unless otherwise stated):

  • Roasted kale
  • Corn
  • Carrots
  • Crimini mushrooms
  • Roasted green beans
  • Tomatoes (seeded)
  • Celery
  • Green onions
  • Manchego cheese

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The very best part of this salad happened to be the interesting dressing. To me, a big, full Chop Chop salad needs a hearty dressing. These days, however, cream and mayo-based dressings haven’t been making much of an appearance in our house due to the calories they add to the otherwise healthy dish. So to keep the creamy need, yet lose the bulk, I made a Cauliflower Dressing: ½ head of raw cauliflower, ¼ c extra virgin olive oil, ¼ c water, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, 2 tbsp agave nectar, 1 tbsp fresh dill. Throw it all into a blender with some s&p, whir until smooth and pourable, and taste for more seasoning. Pour a desired amount on your Chop Chop Salad, mix, and sit back and crunch away.

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This salad made for a great lunch the next day at school, and I told my kids all about it. At 5-years old, they weren’t so interested in a bowl chalked full of veg. Although I did get many oohs and aahs when I said “corn.” I think even a couple of excited claps.

It’s Back To School – a time for new beginning and taking risks. This salad isn’t risky at all, but try it anyway. It’s easy! It’s your own creation of tastiness! It’s healthy (which means you can dive into those cookies afterwards)!

Enjoy!

So It’s Official

13 Aug

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Not that it ever wasn’t, but today, I changed the radio dials in my car to Jacksonville stations.  Big step, I know.  Driving home from work (yes, I’m working – teaching Kindergarten this year), I looked down and decided I needed to take a stand.  Well, at least a rhetorical one since I was driving, but a stand nonetheless.

Whenever I move to a new area, I tend to hold on to these little propensities that I started in the previous state in which I lived.  For example, the radio.  I leave the dials programed to the old stations, and then just use the “seek” button to find the closest working station.  Not only does this take more time to radio surf, but it probably isn’t the safest thing to do while driving, either (I can just hear my mom now. “Distracted driving! Distracted driving!!”).  Distracted driving aside, why am I still hung up on radio channels rather than just plugging in one i-something or other to play music, you may ask?  Well, if you knew me well, you’d understand.  People, I still buy stamps.

Anywho, Rob and I have been cherishing the last bits of our summer with paddle boarding (yes, Clutz McGee [that’s me] can actually stand up!), shopping, and trying to spend the limited time we have together relaxing.  I have been in my classroom almost nonstop transitioning from the mental programing middle school creates, and adapting to the world of vowel sounds and CVC words (a CVC word is a consonant-vowel-consonant word, i.e. c-a-t.  But I digress).  Rob has been doing night flights, thus has been home during the daytime, and often comes home at hours that are only saved for only the best infomercials.  In fact, there have been a few times that Rob has woken me and I’ve talked with him.  This is unbeknownst to me, as I have absolutely no recollection of the conversation the next day.  Sigh.  But such is life at the moment.

Last Saturday, Rob and I had a day – our day – together.  We slept in, worked out, got dressed up, went to a fabulous coffee shop for lunch, and spent the day blissfully shopping and holding hands.  It was great.  And you know what the dang day did?  It made us really miss Oregon.  Funny, hu?  Maybe because it really was “our day;” the old-hat-type things we did in Oregon that we haven’t yet experienced out here.  So as we drove home from Costco, reminiscing about our 2-hour drive to Costco in Oregon, and realizing that Costco just simply always makes one hungry, we needed a good Pacific Northwest meal.  So I went to my go-to.

This salad is barely cooking.  It is so easy, so flavorful, and minus the strawberries, the ingredients are easy to find year-round.  This dish tastes like the earth, the quintessential 6th taste (I think) that is uprooted in the mossy, fresh, emerald world of the Oregon Coast.  Really, just make this and you’ll understand.

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As this is a warm salad, there are a few keys and tips: sauté the onions first until soft, then add the butter and mushrooms.  Otherwise, the pan will go too dry, and you need the mushroom juice (oh man, mushroom juice) to make a nice dressing.  Also, if you toast the lavender, fennel seed, and paprika before crushing it in a mortar and pestle, the flavors will marry more.  Finally, add the spinach absolutely last, OFF the heat.  It will wilt just enough to let out an almost audible sigh, but still retain its integrity.

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We enjoyed our salad with a fabulous Umpqua Valley Pinot Noir, and ate it overlooking our still-feels-new view.  The humidity didn’t exactly remind us of our old stomping grounds, but it was a lovely compromise of old and new.  Like brand-spanking new stilettoes, paired with an old, classic purse.  Too girly?  Ok, try this: it was like using your grandfather’s tools to build a new dining room table.  Actually, since I don’t own a pair of stilettoes (remember, Clutz McGee?), I think the latter analogy works better all around.

So now it’s official – the shiny has worn off, surfacing memories of old, yet creating a whole new environment.  And when we start to get melancholy about our past digs, we’ve always got a Warm Spinach and Mushroom salad at the ready.  As well as programed radio stations – woohoo!

Enjoy!

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Warm Spinach and Mushroom Salad
(serves 2)

  • 16 oz. crimini mushrooms, stems removed, and sliced
  • ½ red onion, thinly sliced
  • 16 oz. baby spinach
  • 3 oz. blue cheese, crumbled (I love Rogue Creamery’s Oregonzola)
  • 3-finger pinch of fresh lavender
  • ½ tsp fennel seeds
  • ¼ tsp hot paprika
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • s&p
  • Handful of sliced strawberries (optional)

In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil until warm, and sauté the onions with a bit of s&p until soft and translucent.  Then add the mushrooms and the butter, and sauté until the mushrooms soften, and release their juices. 

Meanwhile, in a mortar and pestle, crush the lavender and fennel seeds with the paprika.  Add to the sautéed onions and mushrooms. 

Off the heat, add the spinach, and continuously stir until the spinach slightly wilts. 

Serve in bowls, and top with the blue cheese, and strawberries if using.  Serve immediately.

Enjoy! 

Boots and Squash

9 Oct

It’s officially fall.  Well, by the calendar, it has been fall for a few weeks now, but the dark dawn and translucent layer of frost on my windshield revealed evidence of the crisp morning weather.  The leather boots came out today for the first time since the end of spring.  It felt good to put them on, and almost made my pumpkin-spice candle smell even more warming.

But then, like a clichéd after-school-special, my day fell towards the wayside.  The way, way wayside.  So much so, that a small outbreak of hives that started to form at about 2:40 gave a clear visual indication of how my mind, body, and spirit needed sweatpants and a good hug from Sig (since Rob was on duty).

By the time I got home, the Oregon Coast had done what it does best: surprise me.  Opening the sliding glass door, our backyard, with its high, wind-blocking picket fence, greeted me with warm sunlight and the smell of the harvest season.  I took off my boots, and let the sun warm my once tanned legs.  It was like an instant spa-treatment.  If an extravagant spa could put a fall afternoon into a circulation inducing all natural fiber body wrap, you betcha I’d pay the big bucks.

As Sig ran around doing his wild-ass-dog circles (you’d have to see it to understand), I sat, breathing deeply, and thought about my roots.  Who I am, and what I do.  Which inspired me to pull out something I haven’t looked at in a long time.

My recipe book.  Now, if you were to look at our bookcase, you’d see loads of beautiful, well-published, artistically crafted cookbooks, all which have been read, most from cover to cover.  However, not many of them have tomato-sauce splatters on the pages, as I do not generally cook with them.  Being the eternal student, I have always used cookbooks as textbooks of sorts, reading them for education, technique, history, and inspiration.  Then, I create my own.  My recipe book has the creations that I, and my friends and family, have deemed worthy of cooking, eating, and enjoying again, and it’s constantly under construction.  But, sadly, I hardly ever go back to see what inspired me to cook many years ago.

So, as a part de-stressing act, part inquisitive wonder, and part let-the-dog-continue-to-run-his-full-head-off submission, I flipped to the very back of my book.  There, staring me in the face, were the recipes that taught me how to cook.  There were no fancy French sauces, mostly vegetarian ingredients, lots of salads, and whole grain proteins.  There was, what I thought would be a disaster but turned out great, the dandelion greens dish with tarragon and poached eggs.  There was the warm spinach salad that my ex-boyfriend loved.  A clump of pages forward, the wild mushroom and grilled peach ravioli that I served my mother-in-law-to-be.  I learned about flavor through flexitarian cooking, and my fancy French sauces of today should be showing a debt of gratitude; without the cooking sans animal protein days of the past, I doubt I would have learned the depth and flavor simple, from-the-ground ingredients can create in a meal.

Immediately, I was taken back to my 715-square foot apartment in Irvine, CA, with the early autumn Santa Ana winds provoking a dry throat and frizzy hair.  Despite the wifely nagging I often give to Rob about eating leftovers, I abandoned the last-night’s vegetable lasagna with the swanky broccoli pesto, and went back to the cutting board

Going straight to the source (many of our farm ingredients), I roasted a fall-favorite: Delicata squash.  Sweet, soft, and a little bit grassy, the house started to smell like Thanksgiving.  After caramelizing some red onions, a perfumed, tangy, warm salad was created, one that gave me that comforting, fall hug I needed after a long hard day.  It was a simple, easy, and delightful meal, and reminded me of why I started cooking in the first place: to create healthy, tasty, true-to-food meals.

Tomorrow will be better, this, I already know.  It will be a new day, new frost, have new challenges, and a fantastic leftover salad waiting for me at lunchtime.  I might even, once again, wear my boots.

Warm Delicata Squash and Swiss Chard Salad
(serves 2)

  • 1 Delicata squash, peeled, seeded, and diced (or a small butternut squash would work well, too)
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 ½ tbsp white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, main vein removed, and roughly chopped
  • ½ granny smith apple, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp Gorgonzola blue cheese
  • 1 large tsp chopped basil
  • 1 ½ tsp honey
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • s&p

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Prepare the squash on a baking sheet by drizzling 1 tbsp of olive oil, and sprinkle a generous amount of s&p.  Mix so that all the squash is coated with seasoning and place in oven.  Roast for 13 minutes on one side, and shake pan so other side also browns, about another 7 minutes. 

Meanwhile, heat the onions in 1 tbsp of olive oil in a sauté pan over med-high heat.  Add s&p to help soften the onions.  Saute, stirring often, until the onions start to caramelize.  Once all the onions start to brown, deglaze the pan with the white balsamic vinegar, and turn heat down to med-low.  Simmer until all liquid has reduced. 

To make the dressing: mix the honey and apple cider vinegar in a small bowl with s&p.  Slowly drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil, while whisking – the mixture should thicken and become glossy.  

To assemble the salad, mix the chard, onions, squash, apples, and dressing until just dressed.  Top the salad with the chopped basil and blue cheese, and mix again if desired.

Serve with a crisp, half-oaked chardonnay. 

Enjoy! 

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