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Archive for December, 2010

I’ve been sick.

No energy for mucking about in the kitchen, or traipsing through the long, long aisles and the produce maze at the Berkeley Bowl. Trader Joe’s to the rescue. Today at lunch the kids wanted frozen teriyaki chicken. Easy for me, especially since we had some leftover rice in the fridge. I heated it all up for them, and handed them each a couple of mandarins to eat with it. Then I decided that I needed to get some fresh vegetables in to my body, appetite be damned.

I found most of a heart of romaine in the fridge, and a decent avocado, and I poked around until I scrounged up enough other stuff to call it a salad. I also tossed in what was left of the rice and chicken after dishing it up for the kids. This was a utilitarian salad. This was not fancy. This was food. Random food.

Ingredients:
3/4 romaine heart, chopped.
3 large mushrooms, quartered.
1 scallion, sliced.
2 inches of an english cucumber, quartered lengthwise and sliced.
1/2 avocado, spooned out of it’s skin and directly over the lettuce.
1/2 small apple, quartered, cored, and sliced.
3 T of rice
1/4 cup of teriyaki chicken

Dressing:
There is no recipe for this. This is the laziest dressing I know. This is the dressing I use when I know I won’t really taste what I’m eating, but in case I do, I want it to at least have some flavor.
1 sprinkle of salt over the avocado.
1 splash of seasoned rice wine vinegar, try to get a wide arc without missing the bowl. I missed the bowl, but it’s okay. We have washcloths.
3 glugs of extra virgin olive oil, distributed as evenly as you can.

It all went into the bowl. First the lettuce, then the veggies, then the salt on the avocado, then the rice and chicken, and finally, the vinegar and olive oil. Then I moved it all around a bit with my fork, and mixed it up. Then I ate it.

Teriyaki Chicken with Apple and Avocado

Teriyaki Chicken with Apple and Avocado, ready to eat!

The Verdict:
Actually, my taste buds worked better than I expected. I enjoyed this. I think orange or mandarin might have been tastier with the chicken, but I really appreciated the crunch of the apple, so it was more of a passing thought than a burning regret.

I felt a lot better after eating (funny how that still surprises me). I experienced one of those moments where my post-salad self is extremely, maybe disproportionately, grateful to my pre-salad self. Fresh vegetables, even with pre-fab teriyaki chicken and without a fancy vinaigrette, always make me feel better. I like feeling better.

Make it a meal:
It was. A random, yet very satisfying meal.

Pack it to go:
If I’d been packing this to go, I would’ve mixed up a real vinaigrette, and tossed the apples in so that they wouldn’t brown. The chicken might be better off in a small tupperware or ziploc bag and added at the last minute — the sauce has a tendency to wilt lettuce.

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That little jar of unused dressing from before was sitting in the fridge, calling to me. With a fresh supply of romaine, and a hungry friend that adores Thai food, I decided to try again. I’d already eaten lunch, so I was making this just for my friend.

I pulled out the romaine and the mushrooms, and a lot of mandarins. I remembered how very delicious the mandarins were with the first batch (the one redeeming combination, actually) and I wanted to make sure at least one part of it worked. I also added an extra scallion to punch up the flavor. I would’ve put more basil in, and thai basil instead of regular basil, but sometimes I’ve just got to make do with the dregs of the fridge. The chicken tenderloins were leftover from a previous dinner, and were necessary to make it a meal for my hungry friend. I think it would work quite well as a side salad without the meat.

Thai Black Pepper Sauce Salad, Take Two, Prep

The ingredients, ready to face the knife and dive into the bowl.

Ingredients:
(Serves one for lunch.)
1 heart of romaine, chopped.
2 mushrooms, sliced.
3 mandarins, peeled, sliced in half, and cut into eighths.
2 scallions, sliced.
2 chicken tenderloins, sliced.
4-6 basil leaves, sliced.
1 fistful of mint, sliced.

Black Pepper Sauce Vinaigrette:
(Use what you need, refrigerated leftovers are good for several days.)
1 T rice wine vinegar.
3 T extra virgin olive oil.
2 tsp thai black pepper sauce.
1 tsp maple syrup.
1 pinch of salt, to taste.

I chopped the lettuce, and layered it with herbs, mandarins, and veggies. Then I snipped the chicken into bite sized pieces with a pair of kitchen shears, and drizzled the dressing over it all before gently fork tossing it. I wasn’t sure there would be enough vinaigrette, but the powerful flavors really shone, and it was actually just right.

Thai Black Pepper Sauce Salad, Take Two

Deliciousness. Success!

The Verdict:
Success! The romaine was perfect for this dressing. Crisp and crunchy, the mild flavor of the lettuce really let the vinaigrette shine. The mint added a delicious punch, and the mandarins were juicy and good. The chicken fit right in. My friend was pleased. Very pleased.

Make it a Meal:
Done. I think tofu would also work really well with this salad, since the vinaigrette has so much flavor. Grilled shrimp would also be very tasty.

Pack it to Go:
That’s easy for this one — just peel and section the mandarins instead of slicing them. You lose the bejeweled beauty, but you keep your lettuce crispy. The dressing stays in a small jar, and the salad goes in a large container, preferable glass or stainless steel, with enough space to easily fork-toss.

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Thai Pepper Sauce Salad with Mandarins and Arugula Ingredients

Here are the ingredients for the salad, ready to be taken apart and tossed together.

After a long, hectic day, including several hours at the Lawrence Hall of Science, and a trip with all three kids to Trader Joe’s, I was exhausted. Dinner needed to be quick. The kids had packed our shopping cart with more frozen food than our freezer can hold, so we were definitely having a lovely bag of teriyaki chicken for dinner. I didn’t need to read the back of the package to know that I wanted the Trader Joe’s component to be a small part of my meal, so while I cooked rice I dug in the fridge for salad ideas. Being really experimental rarely works when I am super tired, but I keep trying anyway. That’s a warning. See if you can spot my mistakes.

I pulled out a brand new bottle of Trader Joe’s Thai Black Pepper Sauce, thinking I could riff on the Asian theme and go fusion — Japanese teriyaki chicken and a Thai inspired salad. I tasted the sauce, and knew I needed some sweetness to balance the peppery savory flavors. So I grabbed a couple of mandarins, some scallions, and a few very large mushrooms. I debated over the romaine hearts and the arugula I had in the fridge. (I am very ready for a trip to a store other than Trader Joe’s — I need more interesting greens, NOW!) After a previous slimy Trader Joe’s arugula experience, I decided to save the romaine for later and use the wild greens while they were still fresh. Peppery arugula with the black pepper sauce sounded like a good match.

Ingredients:
(Serves two to three as a hearty side salad.)
5 cups arugula.
3 large mushrooms, sliced.
2 scallions, sliced.
2 mandarins, peeled, sliced in half, and then sliced into eighths, taking care to avoid separating the sections, and instead to slice through the fruit and expose as much of the glistening orange as possible.

Thai Black Pepper Vinaigrette:
(Use only what you need, refrigerate extra dressing and use within a few days.)
1 T rice wine vinegar.
3 T extra virgin olive oil.
2 tsp thai black pepper sauce.
1 tsp maple syrup.
1 pinch of salt, to taste.

I mixed up the dressing, adding more maple syrup than I usually use in order to balance out the spicy pepper sauce, and made the salad while the rice cooked, pausing long enough to microwave the teriyaki chicken and toss it in a bowl with it’s prepackaged sauce. The whole meal took as long to make as basmati rice takes to cook, and it was easy to stick the dirty dishes into the dishwasher along the way.

 

Thai Pepper Sauce Salad

Here is the finished salad, ready to serve.

The Verdict:
Did you spot the mistakes?

I’ll break it down for you. The black pepper sauce salad did not, at all, work with the teriyaki chicken. Too much sweetness, and the flavors were just too different. Don’t get me wrong, we ate every bite, but it was jarring to have them side by side. Not ideal.

The vinaigrette seemed like a winner, but not with the arugula. The combination was ridiculously peppery. There wasn’t enough variety in the salad, though the mandarin bites did redeem it a bit. If the flavor of the chicken melded with the dressing, it would’ve been much more palatable, since the chicken is sweet enough to be classified as candy, at least according to my mouth. But I couldn’t combine the two. I ate this dinner like I did as a kid… In batches, trying not to let my food touch.

I used just over half of the dressing, so I decided this will definitely be a do-over in a few days, with romaine or a milder, crunchier lettuce. The dressing had a lot of promise, especially with the mandarins, but it did not work with the arugula or the teriyaki chicken.

 

Thai Pepper Sauce Salad, Plated

It looks prettier on the plate than it tasted to the tongue.

Sometimes, food is just food, and you eat it for the nutrients. That’s what this meal was. At least we ate a lot of leafy greens with our prefab chicken.

Make it a meal:
I’ll do that later in the week, I promise. My plan is romaine lettuce, more mandarin, and chicken sliced over the top. We’ll see how that goes.

Pack it to go:
The mandarins need to be peeled and sectioned instead of sliced, so that their juices don’t wilt the lettuce. Otherwise, it works as described. Except for all the problems I’ve already outlined.So don’t pack this to go. Play with some of the ideas, and pack your own invention instead.

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There is a taqueria I adore that makes this absolutely amazing citrus dressing. It’s simple, fresh, and just plain good. It is the reason I started playing with citronette recipes, though I’ve branched out quite a lot over the years. Still, I love the flavors of Mexican, or Southwestern, or Cal-Mex, or whatever you want to call food with heavy handed cilantro, zesty citrus, pale green avocado and fresh crunchy lettuce.

I really wanted a vegetarian salad for lunch. A can of black beans in our cupboard and a bright yellow lemon decided it for me. I pulled out romaine lettuce, scallions, avocado, mandarins, a cucumber, mushrooms, cilantro, garlic, and spices, and started chopping. I really wished for some radishes — I just love them with these flavors — but my fridge disappointed me.

I added more cucumber than I normally would in order to help make up for the absence of radish crunch, which was necessary to balance out all the creaminess from the beans and avocado. There is no substitute for radish deliciousness. I added smoked paprika to the citronette for the first time, I think just because it was red like a radish and right next to the cumin in our spice cupboard. It also smelled really good.

Southwestern Salad with Black Beans, Avocado, Mandarin, and More - Ingredients

Here are the delicious components for the salad.


Ingredients:
(Serves two as a hearty lunch salad.)
2 hearts of romaine, chopped.
3 scallions, chopped.
1 avocado, quartered and sliced.
3/4 can of black beans, rinsed and drained.
3 mushrooms, sliced.
3 mandarins, peeled then sliced in half and into eighths.
1/2 english cucumber, quartered lengthwise and sliced.
1 handful of cilantro, chopped.
Zest of 1 lemon.

Southwestern Citronette:
(Use only what you need, refrigerated leftover citronette will be good for several days.)
1 T lemon juice.
3 T extra virgin olive oil.
1/2 tsp maple syrup.
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp smoked paprika.
1 clove of garlic, smashed and minced.
1 pinch of salt, to taste.


I made this for my husband and myself, and since we were actually both home at lunchtime I just tossed it all in one big bowl and we ate it snuggled up on the couch with two forks. Halve the recipe if you’re just feeding one person.

Southwestern Salad with Black Beans, Avocado, Mandarin, and More - Ready to Toss

The salad is ready for dressing and tossing...

I rinsed the black beans first, leaving them in a strainer so they could drain while I put the salad together. After making a mountain of lettuce in the salad bowl, I zested the lemon over the romaine, and then I made the citronette. I let the dressing sit (to give the garlic and spices time to steep) while I chopped veggies. I scooped the vegetables into the bowl, added the drained black beans, drizzled the citronette over the top, tossed it, and, well, YUM.

Southwestern Salad with Black Beans, Avocado, Mandarin, and More - Ready to Eat

And now we raise our forks and dig in!

The Verdict:
Amazing.

Yes, it would’ve been better with radishes. But that’s like saying a gorgeous, crisp, sunny day in Tilden would be better with butterflies. I didn’t notice they were missing, though I would’ve enjoyed them if they’d been there.

I loved the last minute addition of the smoked paprika — it gave the citronette an intense depth of flavor, and it added such pretty color. My husband was equally impressed. He knew there was something different, but he couldn’t quite place it…

Make it a Meal:
Done. Pinto beans would also work, or grilled chicken, steak, pork, or shrimp.

Pack it to Go:
If you’re making this for one, remember to halve the salad ingredients, and dress it to taste — a little at a time until it pleases you. Avocado needs to go in the dressing or stay in its skin when you pack it to go. Mandarins should be peeled and sectioned, instead of cut, so that the juices don’t wilt the lettuce. Everything else is great as described above — just keep the dressing in a jar with the avocado, and the rest of the salad in a container with a little extra space for fork-tossing.

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I love roasted vegetables. I love the caramel color. I love the mild sweetness and the salty crunch. I love the warmth. Not long ago, I made a roasted brussels sprout and roasted artichoke heart arugula salad, and it turned out so incredibly well that I’ve been dreaming about making another. While picking over the pathetic produce selection at Trader Joe’s, I noticed bags of brussels sprouts that looked decent, so I snatched them up. We also had a handful of pearl onions, so I tossed those in to roast with the brussels sprouts. I served this with roasted marble potatoes (no, not from Trader Joe’s — still on hand from my last trip to the Berkeley Bowl), and braised chicken tenderloins.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Arugula Side Salad

Brussels sprouts and pearl onions, coated in extra virgin olive oil and ready to roast.


Ingredients:
(Serves two or three as a hearty side salad.)
5 cups of arugula.
2 pounds of brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved.
10 pearl onions, peeled and halved.
Extra virgin olive oil, as needed for roasting.
Salt, as needed for roasting.

Red Wine Vinaigrette:
(Use only what you need. Refrigerated extra vinaigrette will last for several days.)
1 T red wine vinegar.
3 T extra virgin olive oil.
1 large shallot, diced.
1 pinch of salt, to taste.


I prepped the brussels sprouts and the onions and coated them with extra virgin olive oil before spreading them out in a baking pan lined with parchment paper. I like parchment paper. I get all the yummy browning without having to scrape the vegetables out of the pan. I sprinkled salt over the brussels sprouts and pearl onions, and popped them in the oven underneath a similar pan full of potatoes. Convection roast, 400 degrees, until they were brown and delicious. I stirred them once or twice. I don’t think it took more than about twenty minutes total, though I might be underestimating. We had a lot going on that night — battles to break up, and friendships to restore. While the veggies and potatoes were roasting, I dealt with the chicken and prepared the vinaigrette. I also piled a whole lovely bunch of arugula into a bowl. Once everything had finished cooking, I let the brussels sprouts cool for a few minutes (not long at all — I like this salad with the arugula a little wilted) and then I added them to the salad bowl and drizzled the dressing over the top.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Arugula Salad

Tossed and ready to serve!

The Verdict:
Still delicious. Perfect rainy weather salad. I love the way that the shallots soften just a little when you toss the vinaigrette with the hot brussels sprouts. While the artichoke hearts from a previous salad were fancier, the onions were equally good. Either will add a little extra sweetness, and help diversify the salad. I recommend choosing one when you play, as I think both at once would take away from the elegant simplicity of this salad.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Arugula Side Salad on the Plate

Dished up and ready to eat!

Make it a Meal:
I could’ve chopped the chicken into the salad, but I like it better on the side. I’m not sure I’d want to make this one a meal. I really love its simplicity.

Pack it to Go:
If you pack it, you’re eating it cold. It’s best warm, but it actually makes great leftovers. I had it cold the day after I made it, with a piece of the same chicken, and it was very tasty. Not the same experience, and the arugula was truly, completely, irrevocably wilted, but I liked it. I think it’s important to have more roasted vegetables than arugula if you eat it leftover. I don’t save salad. I never eat leftover salad. But somehow, this one works — my exception that proves the rule.

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Going for a quick run this morning left me no time for salad prep before my husband left for work. He wasn’t fazed — he fends for himself with ease. But not doing the prep for him meant I didn’t do it at all until it was lunchtime. Luckily, I had my mother-in-law over in the morning to work with my kids, so I wound up with more time to play in the kitchen while also being a lot more awake — I was making salad at 11:30 AM instead of before 8:00 AM. Inspired by a small jar of homemade bacon bits (leftover from the kids Carbonara lunch yesterday) I decided to try my hand, once again, at making a ranch dressing that I actually like.

Playing with Buttermilke Ranch Vinaigrette

Salad ingredients, gathered together and ready to prep.

Ingredients:
(Serves one for lunch.)
1/2 heart of romaine, chopped.
2 mushrooms, quartered.
1 carrot, sliced.
1/4 English cucumber, quartered lengthwise and sliced.
1/2 apple, quartered and sliced widthwise.
1/2 avocado, quartered and sliced.
1 scallions, sliced.
1/8 cup of crispy bacon, crumbled.

Buttermilk Ranch Vinaigrette, Take One:
(Use what you need, refrigerate any extra and use it within a few days.)
1 T rice wine vinegar.
2 T buttermilk.
2 T extra virgin olive oil.
1 small clove of garlic, smashed and minced.
1/2 tsp maple syrup.
1 generous pinch of salt, to taste.

I doubled the salad ingredients listed above and assembled them in two separate bowls, one for my mother-in-law, and one for me. I mixed up one batch of the dressing, since I like to go light with creamy dressings, and then I started chopping. It took a while, since I also had french toast and grilled cheese on the stove for the kids, but eventually both bowls were full of salad. I made sure to cut the avocado right before serving, so it would be lovely and green when we ate it.

Playing with Buttermilk Ranch Vinaigrette, Ceramic Bowl

Here is one of the finished salads, in a kidmade ceramic bowl.

The Verdict:
Not exactly ranch dressing, but damn tasty. It’s hard to go wrong with bacon and avocado. I wanted to mix arugula in as well, since I tend to like salads with a little more green in them and I only had one lonely heart of romaine left, but my arugula had gone slimy. Trader Joe’s is great for candied walnuts. Not so good for fresh produce. I think that was actually for the best though, since the romaine worked really well with the creamy dressing. Arugula would’ve been a bit too peppery and strong, I think. I loved the apple, bacon, avocado, carrots, mushrooms… Okay, I really liked everything about this salad. Strong flavors. Salty and sweet. Excellent crunch, with lush nibbles of avocado and that creamy dressing to smooth it out. Each bite was unique. Very fun, colorful, and delicious. My mother-in-law was appreciative, and I think she really adored the little crunchy bacon bits.

Playing with Buttermilk Ranch Vinaigrette, Glass Bowl

Here is the other salad, beautifully colorful in a simple glass bowl.

Make it a Meal:
Done. I would’ve happily tossed some chicken breast in if I’d had any on hand, but it was fine on it’s own.

Pack it to Go:
This one would work really well packed to go — just make sure you’ve got a jar large enough to hold the apple and the avocado in with the dressing. Brown apples and avocados are no good, and both will stay fresh in the acidic dressing. The avocado will create more thickness in the dressing, and you’ll have less chunks on the fork, but it will still taste delicious. If you really want the avocado chunky, half an avocado, still in the skin, travels relatively well. You’ll have the one brown side, which you can trim off or ignore, but the rest of it will be perfect. Of course, if you’re packing salads for two people who will be eating at the same time and place, you can leave the avocado untouched until you’re ready to eat, and cut it into the salad at that point. And if you’re a real avocado freak (yes, like me) you can just give yourself extra avocado. This salad has enough crunch to handle all that creaminess. Your skin and brain won’t mind the extra healthy fats, either.

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More often than not, I’m groggily making lunch salads for the grown-ups in the house at 7:00 AM.

Two Salads in One

Some of the ingredients, ready for chopping.

Two Salads in One - Lemon

Lemon juice extraction time.

Two Salads in One - Mint

Here's the mint, ready for chopping.

That’s what I did this morning.
A quick glance at the randomness in the fridge left me with the desire to create a base salad that would work well with the two different pieces of meat I had available — one last small tenderloin of sesame chicken, and a little leftover steak with sauteed mushrooms. I decided that a citronette would work well with both, and pulled out my hearts of romaine and a little pile of citrus fruit, as well as mint, radishes, mushrooms and more.


Ingredients:
(serves one as a lunch salad, or two as a side salad)
1 heart of romaine, chopped.
2 mushrooms, sliced.
3 radishes, sliced.
1 mandarin, peeled and carefully sectioned (membranes
left intact).
1 scallion, chopped.
1 fistful of mint, chopped.
Zest of 1 lemon.

Citronette:
(use what you need, there may be extra)
1 T lemon juice.
3 T extra virgin olive oil.
1/2 small clove of garlic, smashed and minced.
1/2 tsp maple syrup.
1 pinch of salt, to taste.


I doubled all of the ingredients above, and made two identical salads side by side. My husband’s salad went into a glass pyrex bowl with a lid for easy transport, while mine went into a regular bowl and then right back into the fridge for later. I mixed both batches of citronette in small jars.

I started by chopping the veggies and tossing them into their respective bowls. Then, I carefully peeled and sectioned the mandarins, trying not to rip them open. My goal was for their own skins to preserve them in the bowls, so they wouldn’t be leaking liquid onto the greens and wilting them. It worked. I always think citrus fruits are prettier when they’re sliced open, but they travel in salads much, much better when you leave the membranes intact. Mandarin wedges are perfectly bite sized, and are an ideal fruit for salads that will sit in the fridge for a while before being eaten.

Once I’d constructed the salads, I mixed up the citronette. I snuggled my husband’s dressing jar into the pyrex bowl, while mine joined my salad in the fridge. I used kitchen shears to slice the last piece of sesame chicken over my husband’s salad, and then I slapped the cheery red lid on top. I didn’t bother slicing up the steak for mine — I saved that for right before I tossed it and ate it, about four or five hours later.

Two Salads in One - Chicken

Here's the chicken version, ready for travel.

The Verdict:
I can’t tell you exactly what my husband thought of the sesame chicken salad, but he was definitely very grateful. (And I’m quite sure he liked it a lot more than the sesame chicken/red wine vinaigrette combo I tried the other day.) My lunch was absolutely delicious.

Two Salads in One - Steak

And the steak salad, ready to eat.

I really appreciated how different it was from the pear and arugula salad we had last night, with the very same steak and mushrooms. This time, the steak was cold, and sliced directly into the salad. It was a bright, refreshing meal. I also love knowing that all the vitamin C from the fruit and the citronette helped my body make the most of that iron rich steak. I think my favorite bites included steak, mandarin wedges, and mint coated romaine. Crunchy, juicy, sweet, and savory. Exactly how I love my salads.

Make it a Meal:
Done — two different leftover meat suggestions. Both worked well, so make your own choice: chicken, or steak?

Pack it to Go:
Done. (more…)

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