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I was making lunches early in the morning, and I knew I wanted a straightforward, no frills, very basic blue cheese dressing over a super crunchy salad. Something my grandmother would have enjoyed — familiar, simple, and tasty.

I grabbed romaine lettuce, carrots, celery for crunch, as well as italian flat leaf parsley and red onion for flavor, and I got to work.

Ingredients for Recipe for Creamy Blue Cheese Salad with Crunchy Vegetables

Ingredients, ready for action.

Ingredients:
(Serves one as a meal.)
1 heart of romaine, chopped.
4 baby carrots, cut into wheels.
1 rib of celery, coarsely chopped.
2 slices of red onion, quartered.
1/2 english cucumber, quartered lengthwise and sliced.
1 fistful of fresh italian parsley.
2 T blue cheese, crumbled.
Freshly cracked pepper, to taste.

Blue Cheese Red Wine Vinaigrette:
(Use only what you need. Refrigerate extra for a couple of days.)
3 T extra virgin olive oil.
1 T red wine vinegar.
1 T sour cream.
1 T blue cheese.
1/2 clove garlic, smashed and minced.
1/2 tsp maple syrup.
Pinch of salt, to taste.

Since I was making two salads, I doubled all of the ingredients listed above. I mixed up two jars of blue cheese red wine vinaigrette, and then I started chopping. I began by creating my beds of chopped romaine hearts, and then I added the carrots, celery, onion, and parsley. I crumbled the blue cheese and sprinkled it on top of the salad, before cracking black pepper over it all.

I nestled my husband’s salad dressing jar in the larger glass container with the salad and popped the lid on top to keep everything fresh for lunchtime. I tucked mine in the fridge for later.

Recipe for Creamy Blue Cheese Salad with Crunchy Vegetables

Packed to go!


The Verdict:
This turned out exactly as I intended. Very creamy, savory salad dressing and powerfully crunchy veggies. Celery is highly underrated — I really appreciated it’s crisp flavor with the blue cheese. I think this salad was a bit boring for my husband, but as he always says, my worst homemade salad is always far tastier than anything he can get from a quick lunch restaurant near his work.

Make it a Meal:
Done. If you want to amp up the protein, add some chicken breast, or deli meat, or kidney beans.

Pack it to Go:
Done.

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I love a good ranch salad dressing, and I don’t have go-to recipe for it like I do with vinaigrettes and citronettes. You’ve seen my experiment with buttermilk ranch vinaigrette. This time, some leftover homemade sour cream veggie dip* looked like the perfect addition to the pseudo-chef’s salad I was planning for lunch.

I bemoaned the absence of romaine or green leaf lettuce because I love their crunch with creamy dressings and deli meat. Instead, I made do with some mixed baby greens I had on hand. Then I grabbed the ham, turkey, cucumber, radishes, cherry tomatoes, carrots, mushrooms, and scallions — all ingredients that work really well for me with ranch dressing. I added tarragon and savory for extra flavor. And I got to chopping.

Ingredients for Recipe for Salad with Sour Cream Ranch Dressing, Deli Meat, Cucumber, Radishes, and Cherry Tomatoes

The ingredients, ready for action!

Ingredients:
(Serves one as a meal.)
4 cups of mixed baby greens.
1/4 cucumber, quartered and sliced.
2 large mushrooms, halved and sliced.
3 baby carrots, sliced.
3 radishes, quartered.
3 cherry tomatoes, left whole. If serving instantly, slice in half.
1 scallion, sliced.
3 thin slices of red onion, quartered.
2 slices of honey ham, sliced.
2 slices of turkey, crumbled.
2 sprigs of tarragon, chopped.
2 savory leaves, chopped.

Sour Cream Ranch Vinaigrette:
(Use only what you need. Refrigerate extra for a couple of days.)
2 T extra virgin olive oil.
2 T sour cream ranch veggie dip.*
1 T rice wine vinegar.
1/2 clove garlic, smashed and minced.
1/4 tsp maple syrup.
A pinch of salt, to taste.

I was making two salads for lunch, so I doubled all of the ingredients listed above, including the salad dressing. I mixed the ranch dressing in a small jar, tasting as I went to make sure I liked the flavors. It looked like a lot of dressing (I thought it would easily work for three salads), so I put some of my husband’s serving into my jar, which would be staying at home in our fridge. I thought we could enjoy it later.

With the sour cream ranch dressing mixed up, I started chopping veggies and adding them to the two beds of lush baby greens I’d built. The bowls filled up fast! I left the cherry tomatoes whole so that they would travel well. I nestled the dressing jar in the glass container for my husband before popping the red rubber lid on it. Mine just went into the fridge for lunch time.

Recipe for Salad with Sour Cream Ranch Dressing, Deli Meat, Cucuber, Radishes, and Cherry Tomatoes

Two salads, prepped and ready to eat. All they need is that delicious dressing drizzled over them...


The Verdict:
Yummy! This was the creamiest dressing I’ve ever made, and due to the inclusion of the sour cream dip, it had a really nice depth of flavor. I used every drop of the dressing I set aside for myself. (Remember, I thought I had enough for two salads? Wrong.) My poor husband texted me at lunch time to tell me that he loved it, and he’d never worked so hard to get every drop of dressing out of the jar before… Moral of the story? Really thick, creamy dressings don’t spread as well as light vinaigrettes. Or we just both adore lots of good, sour cream ranch deliciousness with our crunchy cucumber, radish, and carrot bites.

This salad was really filling. I didn’t mind the softness of the baby greens as much as I thought I might, though I still think romaine or green leaf lettuce or even a very fresh iceberg would be a better match for the creamy salad dressing. It was still tasty, and I ate every bite. In fact, I was so hungry and it was so good that I didn’t realized I’d failed to snap a picture of it fully dressed until after I’d devoured every last bit. Oops… I will have to continue experimenting with ranch so you get more pictures of creamy delectability.

Make it a Meal:
Done. For a veggie version, skip the deli meat and toss in your favorite beans or some cheddar cheese.

Pack it to Go:
Done.

*Ingredients for Sour Cream Veggie Dip
1 cup sour cream.
1 sprig of tarragon, finely chopped.
1 scallion, very finely chopped.
Dash of rice wine vinegar.
Pinch of garlic powder, to taste.
Pinch of smoked paprika, to taste.
Pinch of Trader Joe’s 21 Season Salute, to taste.
Pinch of salt, to taste.
Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste.

My husband whipped this up on the fly. Combine and sample and tinker with the ingredients until it pleases you. We went heavy on the garlic powder and light on the smoked paprika.

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Time for a simple lunch salad, just for me. I wanted to see if beets would work with one of my favorite salad combinations — creamy pears, crunchy candied pecans, and balsamic vinaigrette.

Salad with Golden Beet, Pear, Cranberries, and Candied Pecans

Ingredients, ready for action.

Ingredients:
(Serves one for lunch.)
3-4 cups of mache and mixed greens, including radicchio and frisee.
1/2 a pear, quartered, cored, and sliced.
1/4 cup of candied pecans.
1/4 cup of dried, sweetened cranberries.
1/4 cup of grated golden beets.
Freshly ground pepper, to taste.

Salad with Golden Beet, Pear, Cranberries, and Candied Pecans

Ready for the vinaigrette!

Balsamic Vinaigrette:
(Use only what you need. Refrigerate extra for a couple of days.)
1 T balsamic vinegar.
3 T extra virgin olive oil.
1/2 clove of garlic, smashed and minced.
1/4 tsp maple syrup.
Pinch of salt, to taste.

First I prepared my salad dressing in a small jar, giving the garlic time to mellow and infuse the vinaigrette. I created a nice bed of greens, chopped my pear, and added everything to the salad bowl. I gave it a good dusting of pepper before drizzling the vinaigrette over it and tossing it.

Salad with Golden Beet, Pear, Cranberries, and Candied Pecans

A dessert of a salad, ready to eat.


The Verdict:
The beets weren’t that noticeable, honestly, and the salad was a little sweet for me. I love these flavors as a side salad, but I don’t recommend it as a lunch salad unless you’ve got a pretty serious sweet tooth. (Bear in mind that my husband thinks I’ve got a genetic mutation that disables the normal human appreciation for sugary goodness, so if this sounds amazing to you, go for it. There’s a good chance I’m the weirdo, not you.) Regardless, I would have loved this salad if it shared a plate with a really good pork chop and some roasted potatoes.

Make it a Meal:
Done, but not recommended. Serve it on the side with something delectably savory instead.

Pack it to Go:
Apples go in with the dressing to prevent browning. If it’s sitting for a long time, the beets will also brown, so bear that in mind and plan accordingly. As always, add your dressing at the last minute, only as much as you need, fork toss, and enjoy.

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I give you: Arugula, roasted brussels sprouts, bacon, and rosemary marcona almonds in a red wine vinaigrette with shallots and cracked pepper. Enjoy.

Salad teaser.

Try it. You'll like it.

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We’d all had a big lunch, so I wanted a simple dinner. The kids were happy with sandwiches and fruit, but I craved vegetables. I decided to make a slightly elegant salad — less is more — drenched in a good balsamic vinaigrette.

Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette, Red Bell Pepper, Basil, and Chicken

The red bell pepper and basil are ready -- time to chop.

Ingredients:
(Serves one as a meal.)
3-4 cups mache and mixed greens.
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced.
1/2 fistful of basil, chopped.
Freshly ground pepper, to taste.
2 small chicken tenderloins (fresh or frozen).
1T butter for cooking the chicken.
Garlic powder for the chicken, to taste.
Pinch of salt for the chicken, to taste.

Balsamic vinaigrette:
(Use only what you need, refrigerate extra for several days.)
1 T balsamic vinegar.
3 T extra virgin olive oil.
1/2 tsp maple syrup.
1 small clove garlic, smashed and minced.
1 pinch of salt, to taste.

I doubled all of the ingredients listed above and made two salads. First I mixed up the vinaigrette, giving the garlic time to mellow and infuse the salad dressing with flavor.

Then I cooked the chicken. I keep a bag of the Trader Joe’s frozen chicken breast tenderloins in the freezer, and I use the following method when I don’t have time to bother with defrosting the chicken. I melted the butter in a stainless steel frying pan over medium heat, and added the frozen chicken just as the butter began bubbling. I sprinkled salt and garlic powder over the chicken tenderloins, and let them cook while I chopped the bell pepper.

When the chicken was nice and brown on the bottom, I flipped the tenderloins over and lightly seasoned the other side. I chopped up the basil and cleaned up my salad prep area, and then I checked on the chicken. Once it had browned on the other side, I used a pair of kitchen shears to snip it into bite-sized pieces. My chicken was still raw in the center, so I stirred it around a bit, turned the heat to low, and covered it. If you use fresh chicken instead of frozen, you can probably skip that last step. After a few minutes on low, I took off the lid and turned off the heat. I added the vinaigrette, a dusting of freshly cracked black pepper, and the hot, juicy chicken to the salads, and served them right away.

Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette, Red Bell Pepper, Basil, and Chicken

Time to eat!


The Verdict:
Yum!

There is nothing like homemade balsamic vinaigrette. It was my gateway salad dressing — the one I absolutely had to learn how to make, and the one I spent years playing with and refining. It’s friendly, and works well with all kinds of fruits, vegetables and flavor palettes, but sometimes, I have to make a salad where the balsamic vinaigrette is the star. This was one of those salads. It all worked very well together. The juicy chicken soaked up just enough dressing to really sparkle. The tender mache paired nicely with the crispy red bell peppers, and the basil brought all the flavors together.

If the ingredients in my fridge ever align just right, I will happily make this salad again.

Make it a Meal:
Done. For a vegetarian version, replace the chicken with either kidney beans, goat cheese, or feta cheese.

Pack it to Go:
This would be very easy to pack to go. The chicken will be cold, but it will still taste delicious. Just keep the vinaigrette and the salad in separate containers until ready to serve (I recommend making the dressing in a small glass jar, and preparing the salad in a large glass or stainless steel container with a tupperware-style lid.) Use only as much vinaigrette as you need, fork toss or pop the salad container lid back on and give it a few good shakes, then eat and enjoy.

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Lunch salad prep time: early morning, fridge full of goodies, ideas swirling in my head… I improvise more than I plan. This time, I didn’t even have a clear theme, unless you call balsamic vinaigrette a theme. I grabbed what looked good, put it all together, and declared it a salad.

Golden Beet, Fennel, and Kidney Beans

The ingredients are ready for chopping.


Golden Beet, Fennel and Kidney Beans: Grated Beet

Golden beet, grated and ready to be sprinkled into the salad.

Ingredients:
(Serves one as a lunch salad.)
1 romaine heart, chopped.
3 mushrooms, sliced.
1 scallion, sliced.
2 sprigs of basil, leaves removed and chopped, stalk discarded.
1 sprig of marjoram, leaves stripped, stalk discarded.
1/2 can of kidney beans, rinsed and drained.
1/2 fennel bulb, sliced.
1/2 cup grated golden beet.
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

Balsamic Vinaigrette:
(Use only what you need. Refrigerate the rest for several days.)
1 T balsamic vinegar.
3 T extra virgin olive oil.
1/2 clove of garlic, smashed and minced.
1/2 tsp maple syrup.
1 pinch of salt, to taste.

I was making two salads, as usual, so I doubled all of the ingredients listed above. I started by rinsing the kidney beans and leaving them in a sieve to drain. Then I chopped the lettuce and made a nice bed for the vegetables. I rinsed and chopped and sliced until both bowls were vibrantly full of flavorful bite sized bits. I grated the golden beet, a trick I learned from a good friend, and generously sprinkled a handful over each salad. Then I added the beans, and dusted the salads with freshly ground black pepper. Finally, I whipped up the balsamic vinaigrette, slipped a jar of it into my husband’s salad, and popped the lid on the container. My salad and my jar of dressing went into the fridge for later.

Golden Beet, Fennel and Kidney Beats: Ready to eat.

Ready to eat!

The Verdict:
These textures really worked well together. I loved the crunchy fennel with the creamy beans, the little mushrooms sponging up the vinaigrette, and the delicious nibbles of beet clinging to the crispy romaine. The flavors were mostly perfect — basil and balsamic vinegar are made for each other. I think the marjoram was a bit heavy handed, so I recommend using about half of what I used. It might even be wiser to use about a fourth, and to include it directly in the dressing, so that it’s subtle and infused throughout instead of big punches of flavor. This is definitely worth playing with again.

Golden Beet, Fennel, and Kidney Beans: Packed to go.

Packed to go!


Make it a meal:
Done.

Pack it to Go:
Done. Just keep the dressing separate until you’re ready to eat, then add only as much as you need, fork toss (or put the lid back on and give it a few quick shakes), and enjoy.

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