When the heat index in Ohio reaches 110°, there are very few things that sound good for dinner. In fact if I didn’t love eating so much, I’m fairly sure I could sit by the pool, sip on lemonade, eat a popsicle and call it a meal. But inevitably, as soon as I come back into the air conditioning, I am famished. The last time this post-sun hunger hit, I made the mistake of attempting to eat a full fat burger with a side of fries and a cake vodka milkshake in a restaurant that had to be 90º inside. (What were we thinking?!?!) Instead of making that mistake again, I think I will have this salad planned ahead. It’s the perfect summer meal – light, healthy, fruity, filling and of course colorful.
I’m not usually one to think that salads require a recipe, but I think that’s because I often times think of “salad” as a bag of lettuce tossed with bottled dressing. Granted, this is a little more work, but this salad is actually something I would order from a restaurant as a meal (and I’m not real big on salads for dinner). I’m also not a big fan of plain chicken breasts, but the citrus marinade really elevates them to a tender and succulent piece of meat. In fact, the lightly flavored and grilled chicken is probably my second favorite part of this meal. Second only to the abundance of colors you get to eat of course. So the next time you go to the pool (or ocean if you are so lucky), marinate the chicken in the fridge so you have an easy and delicious meal when the sun wears off.
Grilled Chicken Summer Salad with Sweet Orange Vinaigrette
Serves 4 as a main dish
- 1 large bunch Romaine Lettuce
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 8 ounce can mandarin oranges, drained
- 1 red bell pepper, (or sweet baby peppers) sliced
- 4 green onions, sliced
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 6-8 tablespoons dried cherries or cranberries
- Toasted sesame seeds
- optional: diced fresh pineapple
- 1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice (about 1/2 of a large navel orange)
- 4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons dry mustard
- 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2/3 cup canola oil
To prepare dressing, combine orange juice, vinegar, dry mustard, sugar, sesame oil, and salt in a 2 cup measuring cup. Wisk until sugar is disolved. While continuously whisking, slowly drizzle in the oil to make an emulsion. Place the chicken breasts in a ziploc bag and marinade with about 1/2 of the dressing, for a few hours or overnight. Place remaining dressing in the fridge until ready to use.
Grill Chicken for 6-7 minutes per side, or until internal temperature reaches 165ºF.
To prepare salads, divide lettuce between 4 plates, top with grilled chicken, mandarin oranges, bell pepper, green onions, cilantro, and dried cherries or cranberries. Drizzle with dressing and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Slightly adapted from: Our Best Bites
Pretty much every type of salad that I like is some variant of spinach, fruit, good cheese and nuts. For as long as I can remember my Mom has been making a spinach salad with pears, blue cheese and salted pecans, and for a Mom who loves decorating the table but isn’t so big on the actual food – this salad was quite a delectable creation. I have made that salad countless times, and it’s still my go to, but in the interest of changing it up ever so slightly, I decided to try this recipe, and guess what, I loved it! In fact it holds the title as the first salad a certain “salad hater” has ever eaten, and liked (no…it’s not John but another picky husband who doesn’t like vegetables :-)).
I think what I really liked about this is that it includes an easy, throw together recipe for a really good dressing. So much of the time I go to the trouble of toasting nuts, chopping fruit, buying spinach, and then covering it all with some bottled dressing because making homemade just seemed like too much work. This dressing is super easy, and really complements the flavors of the salad well. Also, I think I like this salad because I love an excuse to eat my new favorite apples, ‘Honeycrisp”. (Which, ironically recently had a sign aat the grocery store that said “Everyone’s New Favorite” – good to know I’m not alone). But if you can’t find Honeycrisp, I think Fiji or Granny Smith would work equally well.
Harvest Apple Salad with Buttered Almonds
For the dressing:
- ¼ cup finely minced sweet onion
- 3 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
- 3 tbsp. white wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp. sesame seeds
- Pinch of paprika
- 2 tbsp. sugar
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
For the almonds:
- 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
- ¾ cup sliced or slivered almonds
- 2 tbsp. sugar
For the salad:
6-8 cups baby spinach leaves, washed and dried
2 medium apples, cored and thinly sliced
4-6 oz gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
To make the vinaigrette, whisk all ingredients except olive oil in a measuring cup. Then slowly add the olive oil whisking vigorously to combine.
To make the buttered almonds, melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the almonds and cook, stirring occasionally until toasted and lightly browned. Stir in the sugar and cook just until melted and well incorporated. Set aside to cool.
Place spinach in a large salad bowl or on individual salad plates. Top with apple slices, gorgonzola, and the buttered almonds. Drizzle with the dressing and serve immediately. Leftovers are good for up to a day, as fresh spinach does not wilt as quickly as other types of lettuce.
Usually I’m one of those people who remembers the 4th of July on the 3rd of July, but this year was different. Since we have some organized and adventurous friends, we had a camping trip planned about month in advance of the holiday weekend. This was a good lesson for me in the fact that “anticipation is half the fun”, because it really was exciting having something to look forward to. I even bought some red and blue marshmallow roasting sticks as well as color coordinating paper plates to take with us. And of course, I was excited to plan some of the menu. When I saw this smoked gouda pasta salad, I immediately bookmarked it as a must try, and I thought camping would be the perfect opportunity.
I’m very familiar with the Caprese type pasta salad, and while the tomatoes, basil and mozzarella are tasty, I often feel that they are not strong enough flavors to create an interesting pasta salad. I’ve made that type of salad many times, and usually end up picking out everything but the pasta. That’s what I think is so great about this recipe – the pasta itself has some great flavor. It’s also really easy to make and requires pretty basic ingredients. While you might not regularly buy chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, they add a lot of great flavor for a small cost. The thing that used to annoy me about them is that most recipes only call for 1-2 peppers and I would inevitably let the leftovers sit in the fridge until they looked so gross that I didn’t feel guilty throwing them away- but I have found the solution. Well, actually I should say that Sara over at Our Best Bites has found the solution: freeze the peppers in individual cubes of how much you might need. See her post here to see what I’m talking about. But seriously, don’t skip the chipotles- the adobo has very little spice but adds a smokey flavor that complements the gouda nicely. Then you can make this pasta salad and eat it out of individual ziplocs like we did on our picnic (classy I know). Or don’t do that, and eat it like a normal person, out of a bowl – I’m pretty sure it will taste good either way.
By the way, we went to Mackinac Island. You should totally make the trip if you live anywhere near Michigan, or even if you don’t. I did not remember such cool places existing in Michigan – it’s kind of making me change my view of the Midwest (at least until winter comes :-)).
Smoked Gouda Pasta Salad
Serves 10-12 as a side
- 1 lb (16 oz) Mostaccioli pasta
- 1/2 cup light Mayonnaise
- 1/3 cup Milk (I used part skim, part cream)
- 5 Tablespoons White Vinegar
- 1 T. Adobo Sauce From Chipotle Peppers
- Salt and Ground Black Pepper To Taste
- 2 pints Grape Tomatoes, Halved Lengthwise
- 1/2 pound Smoked Gouda Cheese, Cut Into Small Cubes
- 30 whole Basil Leaves, sliced thin (chiffonade)
1. Cook pasta according to pasta directions. Drain and rinse in cold water to prevent pasta from sticking.
2. In a large bowl, mix mayonnaise, milk, vinegar, salt, pepper, and adobo sauce.
3. Add the pasta, halved tomatoes, cubed gouda and basil to the sauce in the large bowl. Stir to incorporate, and add more salt and pepper to taste. Chill before serving (or keep on ice in your camping cooler).
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman
When I put this on our (new) menu board for the week, John had no idea what it was. I described it to him as crouton salad, partially because it’s true, and partially because John loves bread and I knew a salad made of it would intrigue him. I really liked this dinner because it was easy, fresh, and included more than a full serving of vegetables, but the really great thing about it was the John loved it as well. He even said, “Wow, this was a lot more filling than I expected.” I served this as a meal on its own, but I think it would also be great as a side dish for a summer picnic.
In terms of cooking, don’t be tempted (as I was) to turn the heat up on the croutons in order to make them brown faster – this actually only makes them burn faster. You do have to watch the croutons while cooking, which is why I think cooking them on the stove is better than the oven. Just be sure to use a large pan, and to toss the croutons every few minutes. Also, this makes a lot of salad (way more than John and I could finish), and unfortunately the leftovers aren’t good because the bread gets soggy. To avoid this, cook the bread and cut the vegetables, but only combine the ingredients you will actually use that day. Then you can make the salad again the next day for lunch!
- 6 cups rustic bread (about 3/4 loaf), sliced into 1-inch cubes
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and sliced (or 1 hothouse cucumber – no need to peel)
- 1 Red pepper, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
- 1 Yellow pepper, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
- 1 Green pepper, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
- 1/2 of a Red onion, sliced into thin strips
- 1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted
- 8 oz feta, sliced into 1/2 inch cubes
For the Dressing:
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Juice of 1/2 a lemon
- 1 teaspoon dried, crushed oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
- salt and pepper to taste (about 1 teaspoon combined)
1. In a large frying pan heat 1/4 cup olive oil on medium- high heat. Once hot, add bread and reduce heat to medium-low. Salt the bread with 1 teaspoon salt. Toss the bread for about 10 minutes until crisp and slightly browned.
2. Chop vegetables, and in a large bowl combine all vegetables, feta cheese, and olives.
3. In a small bowl combine all ingredients for the dressing and whisk until combined.
4. Pour dressing over vegetables and toss. Add in the crisp bread and toss until evenly coated.
5. Clean up the kitchen while waiting for the flavors to meld. Add salt and pepper as needed and serve.
Yesterday was full of kitchen disasters. You see our friend Adam is on a whorl wind cross-country tour, and stopped by our place for a visit. Since I am on vacation for another 5 days, I figured what better way to spend my time than to make a dinner completely from scratch. I had the menu all planned out, which consisted of homemade hamburger buns, black bean burgers (for which I even cooked my own black beans), home-fried potato chips, homemade ranch dressing, DIY oreos, and pina coladas – none of which I had ever made from scratch before. Despite the best intentions, while we were sitting outside because our apartment was too filled with smoke to breathe, I firmly decided that never again will I make an entire menu that I have never tried before when we have house guests. I also decided that on the rare occasion that we do fry something – John is going to be soley responsible (hot oil and I are not friends).
About halfway through the disaster, I wanted to scrap it all and go out to eat, but I’m actually really glad we didn’t because the dinner was salvageable and I got 2 keeper recipes out of it- the best ranch dressing you’ve ever tasted and out-of-this-world pina coladas. Plus, it made for some funny memories (picture John running through the house wearing chemistry goggles so that his eyes wouldn’t burn from the smoke). I really wish I would’ve taken pictures of all the mishaps that occurred, but I think I was too traumatized by the billows of smoke around me to remember. Here’s John and Adam recovering by playing super mario brothers:
Despite the fact that I slightly burned my hand, and that we all suffered from some smoke inhalation, this ranch dressing really made it all worth it… it’s that good! It’s the kind of thing that will literally make you eat every last vegetable you have in your fridge, and then some. I tend to have this habit of buying veggies with the best intentions of eating them for snacks, but then somehow I forget about them and then eventually they look unappetizing. With this ranch dressing around I’m pretty sure no vegetable will ever go bad in this house again.
It is the perfect summer treat – cool, refreshing, and goes great on just about anything. While I normally think of ranch with vegetables, I actually made this dressing to go with the homemade chips (that John ended up cooking). It’s coolness was the perfect complement to the warm, greasy, crispness of a potato chip. I also think it would be great for dipping pizza crust (if that’s your thing), or pizza bites , or you could use it as regular old salad dressing (but believe me, no salad will ever taste the same).
I know dressings get a really bad rap for being unhealthy, and I’m not trying to pretend that you should drink this dressing by the cupful – but it’s quite a bit better for you than the store bought kind. It also tastes worlds better than bottled “low-fat” dressing, despite the fact that it is made with low fat ingredients. Depending on your taste, you can alter the amount of parsley, chives and dill you want to put into this. I happened to add a lot, and it really gave the dressing that cool, summery flavor I was looking for. I probably added a full cup of greens (parsley, chives & dill), but I will mention that the dill flavor came through strongly, so if you add it, tred lightly. If you add any more than what I did, you will get something closer to a green goddess dressing – but nothing wrong with that, it will still taste amazing. So make this, no picnic will ever be the same.
Homemade Ranch Dressing
Makes about 2 cups. Stays good for 2+ weeks (but good luck making it last that long :-))
- 3/4 cup light sour cream
- 3/4 cup light mayonnaise
- 1 T. Olive Oil
- 1 T. Lemon Juice (or juice from 1/2 a lemon)
- 1 cup buttermilk (but you can use less if you like a very thick dip)
- 1 clove of garlic, chopped
- small bunch chives
- small handful parsley
- 2-3 dill springs (optional)
- pinch of salt and pepper
Combine all ingredients except for 1/2 cup buttermilk in a food processor or blender, and blend until smooth (no need to pre-chop anything). Check the consistency, and add remaining buttermilk until your desired consistency is reached.
Adapated from Confections of a Foodie Bride
This meal has been John’s favorite for a long time. That’s right, I said John’s favorite – Despite the fact that it has a weird looking buckwheat noodle, and is just about as far from a hamburger as you can get, John still loves this dinner. If that isn’t reason enough to make it, I really like it too. The first time I made it, I remember thinking, I have no idea how this is going to be – little did I know it would turn into a house favorite! I’m not usually a huge fan of ultra-healthy “hippie” food (no offense to the hippies out there), and soba noodles for some reason had that ultra-healthy sound to them. Take quinoa, for example. I know its uber healthy but every time I make it, I’m slightly disappointed. I still keep trying, but I usually end of thinking, “This recipe would’ve been better without the quinoa”, and then the leftovers sit in the fridge, untouched. This meal is not like that, at all. The soba noodles really add depth and a slight nuttiness to the meal. I made this once with spaghetti instead (because I didn’t have any soba noodles), and while it’s still good, it lacks the uniqueness and dimension that the soba noodles bring. So that’s my rant about soba noodles. You can find them in the Asian section of most grocery stores (I got mine at Kroger).
While this meal isn’t the quickest and easiest meal in my repertoire, it’s also not that involved, especially if you have the chicken left over or cooked in advance. I usually end up boiling the chicken because it’s the fastest way I know, but when summer comes, I’m going to marinate the chicken in some lime juice, and then grill it because I I think the grill marks on the chicken would be pretty in this salad. Oh and about that word – salad. I didn’t really know what to call this. It’s not really a salad – it doesn’t involve any lettuce and is more like spaghetti texture, but it’s a salad in the fact that you can eat it cold if you’d like. I actually prefer it refrigerated, but John likes to heat his up – so it’s just personal preference. I think this would be a great “salad” for a picnic lunch though (can you tell I have summer on the mind :-))!
Peanut, Chicken & Soba Noodle Salad
Makes about 6 Servings
For the Sauce:
- 1/2 cup natural creamy peanut butter*
- 1/3 cup warm water
- 2 T. honey
- 3 T. soy sauce
- 2 T. ginger, peeled and grated
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (or more if you like it spicy)
Stir all ingredients together until somewhat smooth. If sauce is still to thick, add another 1-2 T. of water, but also remember that the cooked soba noodles will likely add some liquid to the sauce.
*I like natural peanut butter here because I think it gives a stronger peanut flavor.
For the Salad
- 1 package (~10.58 oz) Soba noodles
- 5 carrots
- 5 celery stalks
- 3 green onion
- 2 large chicken breasts
- Sliced limes and Chopped peanuts for garnish (optional)
1. Begin by cooking the chicken – I usually simmer chicken in a pot of water at medium for 15 minutes. You can also wrap in foil and roast in the oven at 450° for 15 minutes, or marinate in lime juice for an hour, and grill. (Lime, and citrus in general, helps to keep chicken tender). Shred or chop the chicken into bite-size pieces.
2. Prep the Veggies. Peel the carrots, and slice very thin or shave with the peeler. (I got a julienne peeler at TJ Maxx, and it works great for this). Wash the celery, and slice on a diagonal to create large slices. Slice the green onions.
4. Assemble. If you want to serve the meal warm, quickly toss the sauce, soba noodles, chicken, and about 3/4 of the vegetables together in a large bowl and top with remaining vegetables to serve. If you want to serve the meal cold, rinse the soba noodles under cold water, toss with the sauce, chicken and 3/4 of the vegetables, and refrigerate for 10-20 minutes. Then top with the remaining vegetables before serving. A final sprinkling of lime juice and peanuts gives a lot of extra flavor to this meal.
This past weekend, we had a little post-St. Patrick’s day celebration with some friends, and everyone was kind enough to bring something to go along with the corned beef sandwiches I made. To be honest, I didn’t like the corned beef or the coleslaw topping enough to share the recipe, but I did get another delicious idea from this mini-potluck. Our friends Lexi and Brad made a delicious salad with strawberries, goat cheese, almonds, and homemade poppyseed dressing. It was so good that I have been thinking about it since Friday!
I vowed to eat more fruits and vegetables this week, and what better way than with strawberry salad. The part I liked the best was definitely the goat cheese. I’m a big goat cheese fan, but surprisingly enough I don’t know that I’ve ever put it on a salad. Since it’s a very soft cheese, you can’t really chop it or shred it, but crumbling small pieces worked pretty well. I chose to go with a raspberry vinaigrette for the salad because I wanted something super light, but the poppyseed was also delicious. For the raspberry vinaigrette, I added Herbes de Provence, which is usually a mix of rosemary, thyme, sage, anise and lavender – but it varies a lot from mix to mix. In all honesty, at some point in the past, I was out of rosemary and in the middle of making dinner, so figured I’ve got this stuff ,and it has rosemary in it – I’ll try it. Since then I haven’t actually replaced my rosemary, I always just substitute Herbes de Provence – it just sounds so delightful, don’t you think?
- 3 T. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 2 T. water
- 3 T. Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar (I even found this at Walmart)
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon Herbes de Provence or Rosemary (or 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary)
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Dash of salt and pepper
Wisk all ingredients until combined.
Strawberry Goat Cheese Salad
- 4 cups spring mix salad
- 1 cup of strawberries, sliced
- 3 oz goat cheese, crumbled
- 1/4 cup Pecans or Almonds (or both)
Place the almonds or pecans on a small baking tray and sprinkle with salt. Toast them under the broiler for a couple of minutes. Be sure to watch them the whole time! They go from toasted to burnt in about 2 seconds (speaking from personal experience). Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, and toss with raspberry vinaigrette.
*I don’t actually measure out how much of anything I put into a salad, so this is just a rough suggestion.