A Good Salad Is Hard to Find

A salad seems like a simple thing to throw together, and it can be. When it comes to side salads, less is more: green leaf with parmesan, romaine with tomato, spinach with red onion and apple. I usually don’t bother emulsifying a dressing, but just drizzle the greens with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon or a dash of balsamic vinaigrette. However, when you’re craving an entree salad of chain-restaurant proportions, you need a little more oomph.

I have to admit a level of excitement when I am invited to lunch to The Cheesecake Factory or California Pizza Kitchen or even Applebee’s. I know that there’s a southwestern-style salad waiting for me, complete with tortilla strips, chipotle ranch, pico de gallo, guacamole, and sour cream. One of these days, I will tackle that beast, but for now the guilt has been taken out of that particular pleasure by a favorite local restaurant, The Mixx.

Even though I can enjoy an oversized salad drenched in rich, creamy dressing while supporting local business, I still feel a little defeated ordering a no-cook item in a restaurant, so the tempting pretzel-bun sandwich with a side of sweet potato fries usually wins out. Therefore, the only logical thing to do is to start making these more-is-more salads at home.

One of the magazine’s I subscribe to has a spread in each issue that is a formula for variations on a simple dish. For instance a spread on macaroni and cheese would lead you to choose the shape of your pasta, two different cheeses, a few vegetables and/or meats to stir in, etc. I call it the choose your own adventure recipe. Hopefully this post will serve as a similar guide to your entree salad adventures.

Vinaigrette 
2 parts olive oil
1 part lemon juice or vinegar
mix-ins (in no particular order): mustard, shallot, capers, olives, sesame oil, bacon fat, honey, serano or jalapeno pepper

Whisk together. I usually use a 2-cup liquid measure and a fork. Otherwise, you can use a salad dressing shaker, which works okay.

Salad
Entree for 2
Sweet fruit: red apples, oranges, peaches, grapes, cherries, avocado, tomato
Mild vegetable: cucumber, carrot, red pepper, summer squash
Tart fruit: green apples, dried cranberries, grapefruit
Zesty vegetable: onion, shallot, radish, green pepper
Cheese: Try blue cheese or goat cheese if you use a lot of fruit, try parmesan or cheddar if you use more vegetables
Protein: beans, hard-boiled egg, ham, turkey
Crunch: toasted nuts, croutons, bacon
1 cup torn mild greens: green leaf, red leaf, romaine
1 cup torn bold greens: spinach, arugula, frisee

Wash and dry greens, preferably in a salad spinner.

Slice or chop all fruits and vegetables in a similar manner. Choose paper-thin slices, ¼-inch dices, or wedges.

Crumble, grate, or shave cheese. Try a vegetable peeler to make ribbons of parmesan.

Combine in an enormous bowl.

Toss with dressing and serve (these are my favorite salad servers).

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Birthday Brunch


My family is big on breakfast and not in a most-important-meal-of-the-day way, but in a special-occasions-call-for-special-breakfasts way. Every time I go home to Kansas City, my brother makes up a huge breakfast extravaganza for me, which must include at least one item from each of the breakfast groups (egg, meat, bread, potato, and gravy). It was at these extravaganzas that I learned to thicken gravy, flip an omelet, crisp hash browns, and mix pancake batter.

As special as extravaganzas are, I wanted to take it up a notch for my birthday. How can you do that? Have a brunch. What makes it a brunch? Salad. Who wants to eat salad when there’s quiche and potato pancakes and gravy? Lots of people. Trust me. These bowls were licked clean by the end of the morning.

The green salad was nothing special. I just threw together all my favorite ingredients: arugula, red onion, goat cheese, pecans, and dried cranberries. I tossed it with balsamic vinegar and olive oil (not even emulsified, just straight out of the bottle) and everyone loved it.

Hiding behind that green salad is a fruit salad like none other. I have been ogling this salad on Smitten Kitchen for more than a year and finally found the opportunity (and the ingredients) to make it. The fruit soaks overnight in a simple syrup spiced with a vanilla bean, star anise, and lemon zest. In the morning you drain it and toss the fruit with pomegranate seeds. I’m still looking for a use for the leftover simple syrup — a sweetener for tea, perhaps?

Stay tuned for the rest of the brunch recipes — I’ll be posting them throughout the week.

Panko and Ginger Crusted Chicken with Bok Choy Salad

DSC02759

I think I’m going to convert to a new method of recipe organization. I used to get a recipe from a magazine or from a friend, make it, eat it, and file it away. No matter when Glenn asked, Can we make that Moroccan Chicken again? I’d say, We just had that! I like trying new things and I’m afraid of falling into my mom’s Midwestern casserole rotation.But there’s no real risk of that happening and there’s nothing wrong with making the same dish twice. Now that I’ve reopened my recipe box, it’s a disaster. So what now? A three ring binder? Mac Gourmet?

The inspiration for this change? These two old faithfuls that I dug up for my sister. This chicken is nothing special, but if you’re looking for chicken that’s tender and crunchy, this is it. The bok choy salad, on the other hand, blows any other Asian inspired salad out of the water. Sweet, salty, crunchy. Yum. It’s only good the first time around (the noodles and nuts get soggy overnight), so I guess you’ll just have to have seconds.

Panko and Ginger Crusted Chicken with Stir Fried Vegetables and Sweet and Sour Mustard

Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup Chinese mustard
  • 2 Tb rice wine vinegar
  • Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat for five minutes.

Chicken:

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 cups panko
  • 2 Tb minced ginger
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tb canola oil
  • Cut each breast lengthwise into 4 strips. Combine panko and ginger in a bowl. Lightly beat egg in a bowl (I like to thin the egg with half a shell of water). Dip chicken in egg and coat with panko. Saute in oil 3 minutes on each side.

Vegetables:

  • 2 Tb canola oil
  • 1 Tb minced ginger
  • 2 cups chopped bok choy
  • 1/2 cup julienned leeks
  • 1/2 cup sliced water chestnuts
  • 1 cup bean sprouts
  • Heat oil. Saute ginger 30 seconds. Add bok choy, leeks, and water chestnuts and saute for 3 minutes. Add bean sprouts and cook 2 minutes.

Serve chicken and vegetables on a plate drizzled with sauce.

Bok Choy Salad (from Glenn’s mom)

  • 3 oz Ramen noodles
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 Tb soy sauce
  • 1 bok choy, shredded
  • 6 green onions, chopped
  • Crumble noodles. Roast noodles, sunflower seeds, and almonds 8-10 minutes at 350.
  • Bring sugar, oil, vinegar, and soy sauce to a boil and let cool.
  • Toss all ingredients and serve immediately.

Bad Day Lunch

The perfect end to any bad day: you don’t remember what was so bad, you just remember what made it better. Many of my bad days are made better by food, whether it’s pizza rolls or sushi rolls.

A week or so ago, I had such a bad day that it justified getting a $15 carryout lunch from Lucky 32. For $15, I got a paper grocery bag full of goodies. My bread came with four patties of butter — one for each slice. My Crab and Corn Soup came with three tiny little ramekins — crab meat, sour cream, and chives. My Southern Chopped Cobb Salad came with two ramekins of creamy herb dressing and lasted me two days. And there were crackers popping out of every box and bag. Who can be in a bad mood after that?

I’m Sure This Was Delicious

salad

One of the problems with not posting regularly is that it’s hard to remember what some food is. Whatever this was, I’m sure it was delicious.

I’m going to take my best guess and say that this salad was apple, bacon, shaved parmesan, and scallions over spinach. I cut the bacon into squares rather than crushing it into bits, which made the salad seem heartier and more substantial. Same deal with shaving the parmesan instead of grating it. Based on these ingredients, I can tell you two things — I was out of walnuts and I used Newman’s Own Honey Mustard dressing. If you’re not going to make your own, Newman’s it definitely the way to go. They are delicious and I can pronounce all the ingredients. The Raspberry Walnut Vinaigrette is my favorite with Honey Mustard coming in a close second. Skip the Caesar.

Let’s be honest though, the bread was the star of this meal. Home-baked French baguette. Glenn made it for the day-before-school barbecue and hasn’t baked anything since. Is it Christmas break yet?

Pizza Salad

Pizza Salad

I was so, so proud of myself for this idea. Maybe proud is the wrong word. I was tickled. We made a pizza earlier in the week and had all the leftover fixin’s — bell peppers, red onions, pepperoni, and mozzarella. Put them all over lettuce with some garlic croutons and you have pizza salad! I used basic Italian dressing, but I think it ranch would be very tasty and appropriate. I was especially proud of myself for making it up like a pizza — croutons around the outside for crust, toppings over lettuce, and cheese on top.

Salad #41

Stuffed Avocado Salad

Another of Mark Bittman’s 101 Simple Salads for the Season, the much anticipated stuffed avocado salad (aka #41). It’s basically like eating guacamole with a spoon (in a really good way). Bittman recomends avocado, tomatillo, black beans, lime juice, cilantro and queso fresco. I think you could put just about anything in there — tomato, onion, corn, whatever you think. If I could do one thing differently with mine, I’d use more beans and tomatillos so that it was about half avocado and half other stuff.

That’s a chicken jalapeno sausage on the side. I wanted to have chorizo, but I couldn’t find anything that wasn’t super processed looking. The chicken sausages worked just fine.