Easy Summer Salads

Alright, friends, have we all agreed to stop buying frozen, grocery store hamburgers and unanimously decided instead to try making our own patties this summer? Have the last couple days of me preaching from my soapbox convinced you that there are better ways to barb-e-que? Yes? Good. Now we can move on to fantastic salads to accompany those delicious burgers! Below are two, super easy salads that pretty much go with any main dish. Continue reading

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Southwest Steak Chopped Salad with Chipotle-Lime Ranch Dressing

IMG_8587Alright, here we go, another chopped salad recipe for you guys! If you already made the chopped salad base from yesterday’s post, then you should be good to go, if not, I included the recipe again for your convenience. Because I’m cool like that. Anyway, this version is a little more gluttonous than yesterday’s, but still very low in calories, so don’t feel bad about splurging a little. However, if you’re really serious about your daily calorie intake and don’t want the extra digits to add up, just omit the avocado and chips, and swap out the steak for chicken — you’ll still get the same great taste without the extra fluff. Continue reading

Asian Chicken Chopped Salad

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Coming home from vacation is always hard, but it’s even harder when that vacation is centered around delicious food, as Alaskan cruises almost always are. This past week I’ve been missing my daily breakfast buffet, the mid-day tea and cupcake social, and the calorie laden 3-course meals that I became accustomed to on the ship. My waistline, on the other hand, is not. After a couple depressing attempts to fit into my summer clothes, I decided that it was time to undo all those lovely inches that I brought back with me from my trip. But how do you go from stuffing your face morning, noon, and night to eating like a rabbit and being happy about it? The trick is it to load up on lean protein and fiber-packed foods that will help fill you up quicker, and keep you fuller longer. Which is why I’ve been living off of my homemade chopped salad for the last few days. Continue reading

Pesto Pasta Salad

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Well the Mid-West is finally getting those hot temperatures that we’re known for, which means that my stove will be getting no love for a couple months. I just can’t think of anything worse than sweating over a hot oven after spending the entire day sweating over everything else in the house. Now, it’s only been in the 80’s for a couple weeks, but I’ve already burned my family out on salads and grilled meats, making meal planning a challenge. In the mornings I find myself standing in my kitchen staring at my stove with utter contempt, thinking How can I avoid firing you up tonight? And that’s when a brilliant idea occurred to me: why not cook dinner early before the house heats up, then serve it cold come evening? Why not turn the pasta I was planning to make into a cold noodle salad? Why not? I said, and so I did!

Pesto Pasta Salad

Serves 4-6

  • 1- 1½ lbs. thin spaghetti, broken in half
  • 1 bunch of asparagus, tender parts only, cut into 2″ pieces
  • 2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 4 cooked chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces (see recipe below) – omit to make this dish vegetarian
  • ½-¾ cup pesto (see recipe below)
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
  • Fresh grated parmesan cheese for serving

Cook pasta per package instructions, and at the end of the cooking time add asparagus to the pot and cook for 2 minutes. Pour pasta and asparagus into a colander and run cold water into the colander until pasta and asparagus are cool. Shake the colander to remove excess water from pasta and place pasta and asparagus in a large serving bowl. Add tomatoes, pesto, and chicken and toss to combine (now I like to use my hands because I don’t mind getting dirty and it’s easier to incorporate the ingredients without tearing the pasta, but a pair of cooking tongs will work as well). Season with salt and pepper. Either serve immediately or refrigerate, covered, for up to 2 days. Sprinkle with parmesan just before serving.

Lemon Chicken

  • 4-6 chicken breasts
  • ½ cup dry white wine, like Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc
  • ½ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Fresh cracked pepper, to taste
  • Cooking spray

Place chicken and all remaining ingredients in a large resealable plastic bag and allow to marinate, refrigerated, for at least 30 minutes and up to 8 hours.

Mist a large skillet with cooking spray and set over medium heat. Add chicken, cover skillet, and cook until brown on the skillet side and the chicken starts to become opaque throughout, about 5 minutes. Flip, cover skillet, and cook until the other side is brown and chicken is no longer pink in the center, about 3-5 minutes.

Transfer chicken to a plate and allow to cool before cutting. Chicken can be made and refrigerated up to 3 days prior to being added to the salad.

Homemade Pesto

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Homemade Pesto

  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4 cups fresh basil leaves, torn
  • ¼ Tbsp. pine nuts
  • ¼ Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ tsp. Kosher salt
  • ¼ Tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • Fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Add garlic, basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, salt, lemon juice, and 1 Tbsp. oil to a food processor. Process until just beginning to come together, then while the machine is still running, slowly drizzle in remaining oil and continue to blend until smooth and paste-like. Season with pepper and more salt if needed.

 

Stuff My Kid Eats: Roast Chicken Salad with Butternut Squash and Barley

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Lunchtime at our house can be a battle. Up until a few months ago I would change-up our lunch options rather frequently, and my daughter was usually pretty cool with it, but recently she’s discovered a new streak of independence and wants none of that. Most of the parenting books I’ve read say that toddlers should be allowed to make a couple decisions throughout the day, so I decided to let her choose her mid-day meal (within reason). But it’s always the same. “I want peanut butter sandwich – no jelly. Grapes. Carrots. Cottage Cheese. And milk, please…… Pretty please may I have it right now?!!!!” (The last part was added because it takes me longer than 5 seconds to make her lunch.) Now because I’m a mom, I always attempt to offer her a second option; “Mommy’s having blank, are you sure you don’t want some, too?” And this is where she acts as if her world is crumbling down (especially if I utter the word salad, which can single-handedly bring the child to tears). “No!” she cries, and repeats her original request in a quavery voice. I almost always acquiesce, but as we set down to eat, I notice her grubby little hand reach across the counter to steal some of my food. “Oh that’s good, Mom!” she’ll say, then abandon her sandwich and start eating off my plate. (This is why at any given moment you’ll find a neglected, half-eaten peanut butter sandwich in my refrigerator.) So, although my toddler strives so hard for her independence, she is still human, which means that the grass will always be greener on mommy’s side of the fence, and this is what’s on mommy’s side of the fence today…

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Roast Chicken Salad with Butternut Squash and Barley

This is a great lunchtime salad; it’s light, it’s healthy, and it has everything you need for a satisfying meal right in one bowl – not to mention it makes plenty of leftovers for the rest of week! Note: vegetarians, see VEGETARIAN MODIFICATIONS at the end of the post. (Recipe slightly adapted from Men’s Health magazine)

  • 1 cup pearl barley or farro, rinsed
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • 4 tsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp. cround cumin
  • ½ tsp. Kosher salt
  • ½ tsp. fresh cracked black pepper
  • 2 cups roughly torn rotisserie chicken (bones and skin removed)
  • 2 small parsnips, peeled and shaved
  • 3 cups peeled and thinly cut butternut squash
  • 1 ½ cups red seedless grapes, halved
  • ½ cup chopped Italian parsley
  • ¼ cup toasted pumpkin seeds
  • 3 oz. soft goat cheese, crumbled

Place the barley or farro in a medium pot with 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until tender, about 25-45 minutes (or per package instructions). Drain and cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, OJ, ginger, cumin, salt, and pepper.

Add the barley/farro, torn chicken, parsnips, squash, grapes, and parsley to the bowl; toss everything to coat with the dressing. Top with pumpkin seeds and goat cheese and serve.

VEGETARIAN MODIFICATION: Replace chicken with 1 15-oz. can of pinto beans or chickpeas, drained and rinsed.

Stuff My Kid Eats: Lettuce Wraps

Stuff My Kid Eats

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“Lettuce tacos” is what my toddler calls this fun but healthy meal. She loves it when I set up all the serving dishes in the middle of the table, let her pick her own ingredients (with assistance), roll her own wrap (also with assistance), and eat with her hands (no assistance required – except for the sweeping I get to do after she lets everything spill from the open end of her wrap).

Lettuce Wraps

This is probably the healthiest thing I’ve ever made (EVER), yet you’d never know it because it’s packed with tons of flavor, texture, and hands-on fun. I mean who doesn’t love building their own “lettuce taco?” Nobody, that’s who. Another excellent thing about this dish is that it can be served warm or cold. (For cold, prepare all the ingredients, then cover and refrigerate until ready to use.)  

Lettuce Wraps

Serves 4

  • 8 outer leaves from about 2 heads of Boston lettuce, separated and washed (reserve small inside leaves for another use)
  • 4 cups prepackaged broccoli slaw
  • 5 Tbsp. coconut oil, divided
  • 4 Tbsp. pineapple juice
  • 4 Tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1¾  cups coconut water
  • 1 cup uncooked brown rice
  • 2 Tbsp. dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbsp. oyster sauce (vegetarians use soy sauce)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Choose one (or a couple) of the following proteins: 

  • 1 lb. ground turkey or chicken
  • 1 lb. uncooked shrimp, (peeled, deveined, and tails removed) coarsely chopped
  • 2 – 14oz. packages of extra firm tofu, cut into very small cubes

Preparation:

Arrange lettuce leaves on a serving platter. Set aside.

Place broccoli slaw in a serving bowl, then whisk together coconut oil, juice, vinegar, and green onions until combined. Season with salt and pepper. Pour dressing over slaw and let sit for at least 10 minutes.

Bring coconut water and a pinch of salt to a boil in a saucepan. Add rice and continue to boil, stirring, for 1 minute. Cover and reduce heat to low, simmer for 35-45 minutes, or until water has absorbed and rice is tender. Once rice has finished cooking, add mustard and stir to combine. Season with pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, add 1 Tbsp. coconut oil, garlic, and protein of your choice and sauté until cooked through. Add oyster sauce and black pepper, and stir until combined. Transfer to a bowl for serving. (Note: if you’ve chosen to use more than one protein, cook separately, wiping out the skillet between batches.)

Place all serving bowls on the table and let everyone assemble their own wraps.

To assemble: 

Fill lettuce leaves with a spoonful of rice, then a spoonful of protein, and top with broccoli slaw. Pick up leaves and eat like you would a taco.

Sidekick: Pair with a glass of Pinot Noir, Merlot, or Rosé.

Pesto Pastina Soup with Sourdough Grilled Cheese

I was watching the Weather Channel the other day (because that’s what plays in the locker room at my gym), and I noticed how divided the country is in terms of temperatures this month. The East Coast is still getting slammed with snow, yet the South is enjoying digits in the mid-80’s. The rest of us are somewhere in between; warm, sunny days immediately followed by cold, sleety days. So how, then, does a food blogger go about preparing a soup to satisfy our bipolar March climate? Well, it has to be versatile, that’s how. It needs to be a soup that’s substantial enough to take the chill off the brave souls on the Eastern Seaboard, yet one light enough for those of you already squeezing into bikinis (darn you!). I started rummaging through my dusty mental card catalogue of soup recipes, when suddenly it hit me: Ah ha! Pesto Pastina! Pastina, (literally meaning “tiny dough”) is any variation of small pasta. Pretty much any shape will work in this recipe, and I found some fun ones while perusing the pasta aisle at the grocery store (stars, the alphabet, little squiggly guys). The pastina adds a little bit of starch without making the soup too heavy, and the pesto adds a low-calorie punch of flavor. (Also, this soup can also be adapted for vegetarians, see VEGETARIAN MODIFICATIONS at the end of the recipe.) { Arancini di pepe pastina, or “little peppercorns” } Pesto Pastina Soup Serves 4-6

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3-4 celery stalks, diced
  • 2-3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 cups chicken stock (see recipe in Homemade Stocks)
  • ⅓ cup dry pastina, any shape
  • 2 cups pre-cooked chicken (either reserved from chicken stock recipe or store bought)
  • 3 Tbsp. pesto (see recipe below or use store bought)
  • Fresh grated Parmesan for serving
  • 4-6 lemon wedges for serving

Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add celery, carrots, and onion and sauté until soft and onion starts to become translucent, about 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add stock and bring to a boil, then immediately reduce heat to low. Add pastina, partially cover, then continue to simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover, add chicken and pesto and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle soup into pre-heated bowls and sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese. Serve with a wedge of lemon for squeezing. VEGETARIAN MODIFICATIONS:

  • Replace chicken stock with vegetable broth (see recipe in Homemade Stocks)
  • Replace chicken with a 15-oz. can of cannellini beans, drained

Pesto Homemade pesto is delicious and easy to make. This recipe yields a little more than you need for the soup, but that’s okay, because you can use the extra to add flavor to other dishes: spoon a tablespoon or two into cooked pasta, or smother some on chicken for a quick and tasty meal.

  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 2 Tbsp. pine nuts
  • 3 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ tsp. Kosher salt
  • 3 Tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • Fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Add garlic, basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, salt, lemon juice, and 1 Tbsp. oil to a food processor. Process until just beginning to come together, then while the machine is still running, slowly drizzle in remaining oil and continue to blend until smooth and paste-like. Season with pepper.  *Tip: To freeze, line individual compartments of an ice cube tray with small pieces of plastic wrap  (allow a little extra to hang out the top). Fill compartments with 1 Tbsp. of pesto, and place in the freezer until solid. To release, pull on the ends of the plastic wrap, and peel it from the pesto cube. Place cubes in a freezer bag and freeze for 3-5 months. When ready to use, drop 1-2 pesto cubes into hot pasta and stir until dissolved, or thaw and spread over grilled meat or bread.

Sourdough Grilled Cheese Grilled cheese is an awesome partner to soup, but why settle for the plain old white-bread-American-cheese version when you can easily prepare something more interesting. Switch up the bread to sourdough, and use a few different cheeses. Follow the directions below for ooey-gooey greatness! 

Sourdough Grilled Cheese

Serves 4

  • 8 slices sourdough bread
  • 4 slices Colby Jack cheese, divided
  • 4 slices Gouda cheese, divided
  • 4 slices Swiss cheese, divided
  • 4 slices Provolone cheese, divided
  • 4-6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

Heat a large skillet or grill pan over medium heat. Butter both sides of each piece of bread. Working in 2-3 batches, place bread on hot pan, and grill until golden brown. Flip one piece of bread and place a slice of each kind of cheese on top. Take a second piece of bread and place it grilled side down on the cheese, creating a sandwich. Repeat with other pieces of bread. Grill until golden brown, then flip and grill the second side of the sandwich until golden brown and the cheese has melted. Repeat with all sandwiches. Sidekick: Pair with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, or a Gewürztraminer.