Monday Salad

Have you ever sat down to relax on Sunday evening and had the realization that the only vegetable you’d consumed in the entire day was an onion ring?  Weekends in our home are notorious for eating food that has more taste value than nutritional value.  We get out of our normal schedule and sometimes end up drinking coffee for a few hours in the morning and then going out for a few thousand calories worth of Tex Mex and calling it a day.  Often weekends are when I have time to get serious baking done.  Sometimes we spend an afternoon at the food truck park.  Regardless of how our weekend goes, by Monday I’m yearning for healthy food.  During the colder months I make soup and during the warmer months we have salad.  While we don’t specifically focus on “Meatless Monday”, we only eat meat a few times a week and usually not on Mondays unless I happen to have a few extra grilled chicken breasts in the fridge.

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I also grocery shop and meal plan on Mondays and a big salad or soup is a great chance to clear out the previous week’s uneaten produce.  This particular salad evolves every single week in our house based on grocery sales and the contents of my fridge.  I’ve included a few variations, but unlike baking a cake, a salad is very imprecise.  Use what you have and what you like.  This version of the salad feeds conservatively 8 people.  It’s huge.  We have a big family and I like leftovers, but consider halving if you don’t want salad for days.  Grab your cutting board and your best knife – let’s go!

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Monday Salad

1 head lettuce (I prefer romaine, but iceberg or spinach will work, too)

1/2 head of purple cabbage

1 head broccoli

3-6 carrots or a large handful of baby carrots

1/2 pint of cherry tomatoes

3 green onions

1 package ramen noodles

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

1/2 Tbsp butter

1 can chickpeas OR 2 grilled chicken breasts

 

Dressing:

1/2 cup oil (coconut, canola, vegetable, whatever.  I use Mediterranean blend, which is a grapeseed/olive mix).

1/3 cup rice wine vinegar

1/2 tsp salt

1 Tbsp brown sugar

1/2 tsp sriracha or tabasco

1. Finely chop the lettuce and cabbage to make the base of the salad, arrange in a large, shallow bowl or platter.  Dice the broccoli, discarding the stems, and green onions and arrange on top.  Peel and dice the carrots, scatter on top.  Half the cherry tomatoes and finely chop any other vegetables you have (radishes, celery, cucumber).

2. In a small frying pan, melt the butter and with the ramen noodle package still sealed, use a mallet or meat tenderizer (or your hand, whatever) to crush the noodles up.  You CAN open the bag and chop it up, but it creates a mega mess.  Discard the “flavor” pouch.  Pour the crushed, uncooked noodles and the sunflower seeds into the pan and toast for a few minutes until golden brown and fragrant.

3.  Either drain and rinse your chickpeas or finely dice or shred your chicken breasts and add to your salad.

4. In a small jar, combine all salad dressing ingredients and shake until combined.  Drizzle the dressing over the salad and serve.  I layer my salad on a platter so I don’t need to toss it – we just scoop straight down to get everything.  If you’re using a bowl, definitely toss your salad.  If you’d like to add any sliced avocado or cheese, I recommend adding it to bowls individually – the dressed salad will save just fine for about 48 hours without those ingredients.

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Elotes – Mexican Street Corn

I find myself so fascinated by shows like “Extreme Couponing” – coming up to the checkout with $500 worth of mayonnaise and antacids and slowly watching the total dwindle down to $6.75 must be a huge adrenaline rush and I applaud the thriftiness of these coupon mavens. Unfortunately, I find three problems with extreme couponing:

1. It takes time, which I don’t have.

2. I have neither the space nor the desire to store $500 worth of mayonnaise and antacids.

3. I take my food seriously and coupons for real foods (produce, protein, and dairy) don’t really exist.

So what’s a girl to do? I am pretty much bound to seasonal produce and often improvise a dish based on what’s on sale. I do prefer eating seasonal produce, but sometimes eating the same stuff for weeks on end becomes pretty lame. Thus was the case with corn. I just can’t pass up a good corn deal, and for the last 6-8 weeks it’s been 6-8 ears for $1. Insane – I can’t pass that up. Unfortunately, my family started getting really sick of corn (other than my daughter) – boiled, buttered corn is delicious, but it’s not a weekly staple. We had to revamp the corn. In came elotes – street corn! Grilled and sauced, it brings new life to lowly corn. You’ll start to think it SHOULD be a weekly dish – in fact, I might be sad when it becomes expensive again.

I’ve had elotes from restaurants that was boiled corn with the elotes sauce – it’s fine, and in a pinch is still good, but if at all possible, grill the corn. We’ve served it on and off of the cob, and while it’s good both ways, it’s less of a mess to eat if you cut it from the cob.

Elotes

8 ears fresh corn

1/2 cup mayonnaise (1 step closer to clearing the coupon stash!)

1/2 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt

1/2 cup shredded cotija or queso fresco cheese

1 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp garlic salt (regular salt is fine, too)

1 garlic clove

1 lime

handful of fresh cilantro

1. Shuck the corn, heat the grill. Stir together the mayonnaise and sour cream until well combined. Add in the chili powder, paprika, and garlic salt. Mince or press the garlic and add the garlic and cheese to the sauce. Chop the cilantro and cut the lime into small wedges.

2. Place the corn directly on the grill, turning frequently (8-10 minutes) until all sides are nicely charred. Cut the corn from the cob and serve with the sauce, a squeeze of lime, and a little cilantro.

Late Summer Gazpacho

If you’re lucky enough to live in a place where it isn’t summer anymore, feel free to file this away for use 7-8 months.  But if, like me, you’re still seeing 90 degree temperatures and you’re looking for a fresh tasting meal, then join me for some gazpacho.  If you haven’t made gazpacho before, you definitely should.  It’s quite possibly the easiest dinner ever, it will sufficiently increase your fruit and vegetable consumption for the day, and if you’ve ever thought it would be wise to eat salsa straight out of the bowl, but spice is a concern – you’ll be in heaven.

It’s great for a light lunch, but if you’re serving it for dinner you probably need to consider it as an appetizer or serve some heavy side dishes.

Gazpacho

adapted from Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman

3 garlic cloves

1/2 red onion

1 cucumber

1 zucchini

2 stalks of celery

1 pint cherry tomatoes

1/4 cup olive oil

2T red wine vinegar

1 tsp tabasco or cholula

4 cups V8

salt and pepper

3 hardboiled eggs

1 avocado

1. Peel and roughly chop the garlic and onion and pulse in a food processor until liquefied.  Cut off the ends of the zucchini and cucumber and process until smooth.  Roughly chop the celery and tomatoes and add until the soup is about the consistency of salsa.

2. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the oil, vinegar, hot sauce, and V8.  Taste and season with salt and pepper.

3. Chop the avocado and eggs and serve the gazpacho cold with the eggs and avocado on top.

Sopapilla Cheesecake

So, you’re looking for the easiest dessert you could possibly make that also tastes incredible?  Here it is.  It’s not fancy, it’s not difficult, and it’s not really cheesecake, but it’s the ultimate potluck dessert.  I send it to work with Ross often and none of it ever comes home.

Sopapilla Cheesecake

2 cans crescent rolls

2 8oz. packages cream cheese (low fat is fine, fat free is not), softened

1 1/4 cup sugar, divided

1/2 stick of butter

1T cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 350.  Roll out one can of crescent rolls (don’t break apart) and press into the bottom of a glass 9×13 baking dish.  You may need to manipulate it a bit to cover the whole bottom.

2. Beat a cup of the sugar with the cream cheese until fluffy and combined.  Using a spatula, spread the mixture all over the layer of crescent rolls leaving about a half inch border around.

3. Unroll the second can of crescent rolls and arrange to cover the top,  I press the edges together.  Melt the butter and pour over the top, stir the cinnamon and additional 1/4 cup of sugar together and sprinkle over the top.  Bake for 25-30 minutes.

 

Dessert Essentials: Graham Cracker Crust and Homemade Whipped Cream

Graham cracker crust was one of the first things I learned how to cook myself.  I remember being in elementary school crushing graham crackers with a rolling pin (too little to work a food processor), melting butter in the microwave in what always seemed to be the wrong container (plastic, metal), and stirring in a little sugar to make it all come together with a fork.  Over the years I’ve improved my original recipe, but sometimes I still use the rolling pin just for nostalgia’s sake.  I use salted butter and I typically add a little extra salt because I love salt, but definitely taste before you do – it typically needs none unless you use unsalted butter.

As for homemade whipped cream, it’s one of my most favorite things in the world.  It classes up the simplest of desserts, comes together in about 4 minutes, and is light years ahead of anything you could purchase.

I’m putting these two recipes together because you need both to make my two favorite summer pies: key lime and coconut, both of which I’ll be sharing soon.  You could also make a graham cracker crust, fill with chocolate Jello pudding pie filling (the directions are on the box!), top with whipped cream, and have a pretty excellent chocolate pie in no time.

Graham Cracker Crust

1 sleeve “Nabisco Graham” graham crackers in the red box.  No cinnamon, no honey, just the red nabisco box.  A box comes with 3 sleeves, I think there are 8 long crackers in each.

2-3 Tbsp sugar

5 Tbsp butter (salted or unsalted – add 1/2 tsp of salt if using unsalted butter)

1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut (optional)

1. Crush the graham crackers in either a food processor or using a rolling pin.  Add the sugar and melted butter and stir with a fork until well combined.  Fold in the coconut (if using).

2. Preheat the oven to 350.  Press the crust into a pie pan using the bottom of a smooth glass or measuring cup and/or your fingers to cover the bottom and sides.  Bake the pie for 10-15 minutes until brown and fragrant.  Allow to cool before filling.

Note: if you’re making a pie that requires no additional baking, bake for closer to 15 minutes.  If you will be doing additional baking, only bake for about 10.

 

Homemade Whipped Cream

8 oz. whipping cream

3 Tbsp sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

1. Combine ingredients in a bowl and beat at high speed using either a hand mixer or stand mixer until soft peaks form.

2. You can easily add coconut or almond extract in lieu of (or in addition to) the vanilla to give the cream a different flavor – it works well!

Note:

Focaccia Bread

There’s an amazing brunch place in Dallas that serves $1 bellinis and mimosas until 2 p.m.  They limit you to six (six!), but the mimosas are basically champagne with a little splash of orange juice, in other words, a perfect mimosa.  That, in itself, is reason enough to drive across town and, inevitably, waste the remainder of your day in a post-brunch coma, but they also have amazing food.  Specifically, their focaccia bread is out of this world.  They bring it before your meal on a big pizza pan and ours is always long gone.  After several trips, I decided to try and replicate the focaccia – I had big dreams of doing it one afternoon following brunch, but after 3 mimosas, 4 slices of bread, and a massive eggs benedict (to think – I used to hate brunch food!), all I did was lie on the couch and watch The Little Mermaid with my kids for the millionth time.

I’ve eaten many focaccias over the years – some with onions, olives, and other craziness.  Typically if there’s a food option that contains additional fancy ingredients such as those, I’m all in, but, in the case of focaccia, it’s truly a less is more situation.  This calls for no toppings except rosemary, salt, and a little parmesan cheese.  It’s shockingly easy to make, and a really great introductory bread if yeast breads intimidate you.  Basically, when making bread, in order to get your dough to the right consistency you either need to add your flour to your water or water to your flour slowly.  So much depends on how sifted your flour is, the humidity in the air, the heat in your kitchen, etc.  Most breads have you mix the wet ingredients and add flour until you reach the desired consistency, but in this recipe you add water, and I think it’s easier to gauge the consistency that way because it’s easier to add until the dough just sticks together.

I grow rosemary in my garden, so I have the ingredients for focaccia on hand all the time and started making it about once a week.  You really only need an hour and a half of rise time and half an hour of baking, so it’s possible to make on a weeknight, which is rare for bread.  I actually use canned parmesan cheese for topping – typically I’m a total cheese snob and use fresh grated, but in this case, the can is pretty ideal.

Focaccia Bread

5 cups AP flour

2 tsp yeast

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 tsp salt

2 cups warm water

olive oil for drizzling

coarse salt

fresh rosemary

1/4 cup of parmesan cheese

1. Stir the flour, yeast, and salt together in the bowl of a stand mixer with a bread hook.  Add in the oil and mix until well-combined.  Add the water slowly, a half cup at a time, until the dough comes together in a ball.  Use the mixer to knead the dough for about 5 minutes, until smooth and elastic.  Transfer to a greased bowl, cover with a dishcloth, and allow to rise in a warm spot for about an hour when the dough is doubled in bulk.

2. Punch the dough down and spread into a rimmed baking sheet.  Continue to work the dough until it covers the bottom of the pan.  Allow to rise for an additional 30 minutes while preheating the oven to 425.  Dimple the dough all over using your fingertips and drizzle with olive oil, salt, fresh rosemary, and parmesan cheese.

3. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

 

Italian Chopped Salad

I attended a local university for my second two years of college and lived at home.  While a lot of college students would hate living with their parents and teenage brothers, I tend to look back on those days very fondly.  During that time my youngest brother (who was 10-11) had a music lesson every Thursday night across town and my parents, my other brother, and I would ride along (in a minivan, natch), go shopping during his lesson, and then eat at a local Italian place, Joe’s.  The food there was a no-nonsense baked pastas and pizza, but the real standout was their signature salad – The Joe’s Salad.  It was one of those salads so rich in cheese and meat that it could hardly be classified as actual salad, but so delicious that you couldn’t stop eating it.

So, when I found this recipe it went on my menu immediately – and will be repeated often in the coming months.  A dinner salad is one of my favorites in the summer because it requires no cooking – you don’t get a hot kitchen from oven/stove use, and since the meal itself isn’t warm it has a cool, refreshing taste.  I feel like I’ve run about 10 degrees too hot since 2011 since I became pregnant for the first time so anything to avoid heat in the summer is excellent.  Give this salad a try – like all salads, customize it to fit your needs and preferences.  As always, I prefer to serve the dressing on the side so the leftovers don’t become soggy.  Also, I bought a half pound of both the salami and provolone, expecting to use it all, but it was too much.  You could get by with 1/4lb, but I thought 1/3 pound was about perfect.

Italian Chopped Salad

serves 4 to 6 as a complete meal

for the salad:

1 large head of crunchy lettuce (I used romaine, but iceberg, radicchio, or some combination would work)

1/2 of a red onion

1/3 to 1/2 pound of salami

1/3 to 1/2 pound of provolone cheese

1 pint cherry tomatoes

a handful of pepperoncini (or banana pepper) rings

1 can chickpeas

for the dressing:

3 cloves of garlic (or 2tsp garlic powder)

1T dried oregano

2tsp salt

pepper

juice of 1 lemon

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1. Chop the lettuce, finely slice the onion, and dice the provolone and salami into bite-sized pieces (I had them sliced thick in the deli, then cut them into small ribbons.  Cut the tomatoes in half and arrange all of the chopped salad ingredients into a large bowl.  Top with the drained and rinsed chickpeas and pepperoncinis.

2. To make the dressing, smash the garlic cloves, oregano, and salt together with either a knife or a mortar and pestle.  Combine with the other dressing ingredients and serve.  I typically put my dressing in a jam jar so I can shake it to combine, but whisking works fine, too.