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I was hungry. Really hungry. And I wanted something familiar, homey. And I felt brazen. So I made a fried egg salad. It sounded yummy. Comfortable and weird. What the heck, food is food.

I grabbed greens, eggs, all the random veggies I had that made sense, and ingredients for a yummy honey mustard vinaigrette. I wanted tang and sweet — sharp cheddar, salty egg, delicious greens. It all sounded good. So I slapped it all together.

Recipe for Salad with Honey Mustard Vinaigrette and Fried Egg

Basic ingredients, ready for action. Egg and butter not depicted.

Ingredients:
(Lunch salad, serves one.)
4 cups of mixed baby greens.
15 baby carrots, cut into thirds.
1 tomato, chopped.
1 fistful of fresh italian parsley, chopped.
1 fistful of fresh chives, chopped.
2 T grated extra sharp cheddar.
2 large eggs.
1 tsp butter.
Freshly cracked pepper, to taste.

Vinaigrette or Citronette:
(Use only what you need. Refrigerate extra for a couple of days.)
3 T extra virgin olive oil.
1 T red wine vinegar.
1 tsp mustard.
1 tsp honey.
Pinch of salt, to taste.

I made my bed of greens, and I chopped the carrots and tomatoes that would lie in it. I added my herbs. I mixed up my vinaigrette. And I put the butter in my ancient cast iron pan, and fried my egg, over medium, just like I like it. Cook the whites, leave the yolk super juicy. I tossed the egg on top of the salad, drizzled the dressing over it all, mixed it up with my fork, and gobbled it up.

Salad with Honey Mustard Vinaigrette with Fried Egg

Here it is, dressing drizzled over the egg, all juicy and delicious and ready to be busted open.


The Verdict:
I loved this. So much. So much, it’s been hard to think of anything interesting enough to follow it up with. The cheese got a little melty with the hot egg. The chives added that delicious hint of oniony heaven. The egg… The juicy, delicious, amazing egg. The yolk mixed with the dressing and coated the leaves. The crispy edges of the egg whites added this beguiling crunch. The carrots helped crunchify it even more, while the tomato juices blended with the egg yolk and the honey mustard vinaigrette perfectly.

Salad with Honey Mustard Vinaigrette and Fried Egg, Ready to Eat

Time to devour it!

This salad? This is exactly why I play in the kitchen. When it works, it works. And I don’t just mean that the recipe is perfect, I mean that what you really want, what you crave, is exactly what you create, and you get to eat it, and it is just, well, right. It was just right. This salad, it was exactly what my weird brain craved, and my mouth was happy, and my tummy was full, and it was perfect.

Make it a Meal:
Done.

Pack it to Go:
Not going to happen. Sorry, but unless it’s easy for you to pack a raw egg and fry it at work (or wherever you eat your packed lunch) this one isn’t going to go anywhere. Eat it at home, where you have your fully functioning kitchen, and enjoy it.

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Cheap strawberries. It must be spring.

What more can I say? I bought a lot, with this vague strawberry balsamic vinaigrette salad idea. The kids were devouring the strawberries, and fast, so I knew I needed to try my experiment or I’d miss my chance. Dinner was going to be corn chicken chowder with bacon and chives, and I thought the sweet strawberry salad would be refreshing with the thick, savory chowder.

I’d never made the chowder before — it was a dish one of the kids requested when we were sorting through cooking magazines and looking for ideas. Remember that. Never made the soup before. Inventing the salad on the fly. Improv dinner — my favorite way to cook. When it works, it’s a magical victory. When it works…

I grabbed the ingredients that appealed to me — lots of crunchy jicama and radish, fresh herbs — and started playing.

Ingredients for Recipe for Spring Salad with Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette, Avocado, Jicama, and Radishes

Ingredients, ready to go!

Ingredients:
(Side salad, serves six.)
6 cups of mixed baby greens.
1 large avocado, quartered lengthwise and sliced.
6 radishes, sliced.
1 cup diced jicama.
1 fistful of fresh mint, chopped.
1 fistful of fresh basil, chopped.

Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette:
(Use only what you need. Refrigerate extra for a couple of days.)
6 large strawberries, sliced.
1 T sugar.
1 T balsamic vinegar.
3 T extra virgin olive oil.
Pinch of salt, to taste.

Recipe for Spring Salad with Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette, Avocado, Jicama, and Radishes

Pretty colors.


I decided to macerate the strawberries in sugar and vinegar — my goal was a heavily infused salad dressing, so that the strawberry flavor would really permeate the salad. I started by slicing the strawberries and putting them in a large jar. I added the sugar, closed the lid and tossed the strawberries to really coat them with the sugar. I let that sit for a moment, then added the balsamic vinegar and tossed them again. While the strawberries released their juices, I began to work. I created a bed of baby greens, and chopped the jicama and the radishes. Then I added the herbs. I paused here to tend to the soup. You’ll want to let the strawberries macerate for at least twenty minutes, so plan your cooking accordingly. When the chowder was ready to dish up, I sliced open the avocado, added the oil and salt to the salad dressing, and combined it all.

Recipe for Spring Salad with Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette, Avocado, Jicama, and Radishes

It looks so good...

The Verdict:
My core idea was solid. The macerated strawberries made a truly amazing salad dressing. Basil and mint were perfect herbs to pair with the vinaigrette, and the jicama and radish worked really well.

But… It was too mushy! The combination of the tender baby greens, macerated strawberries, and that enormous avocado was just not right. Even with the jicama and radish, it was too soft and squishy. I think I should have left the avocado out. Or started with a crunchier green — romaine, or endive — and used less of the avocado. I think really good endives and just a little avocado would make this a classy, well balanced salad.

But my real error was my meal planning, or lack thereof. Corn chowder. Remember that? I honed in on the salty bacon, and thought my sweet strawberry salad would be perfect with the savory soup. But the salty bacon? It was balancing all that sweet corn! This soup and salad combination was essentially dessert for dinner.

The strawberry salad really needs to be eaten alongside something strong and savory. Smoky dry rub barbecue, or a really good pork roast, or a hefty veggie burger. Not sweet corn soup.

So, play with the vinaigrette. It really is good. But keep your crunch ratio strong, and choose your main course wisely.

Make it a Meal:
Don’t bother — too much to fix. But if you’re doing the fixing (hearty romaine or endives, skip the avocado) I’d add some crispy crunchy protein — salty nuts, or sliced up fried chicken, or leftover pork chop.

Pack it to Go:
Again, don’t bother. Of course, if you’ve fixed the flaws, then pack your salad in a large glass or stainless steel container with a well fitting lid, and your dressing (including the strawberries, of course) in a large jar. If you dare to include avocado, put it in with the dressing to prevent browning. When you’re ready to eat, shake your dressing well, and drizzle it over the salad. Use a fork to fish out all of the strawberries. Use only as much dressing as you want. Fork toss, and enjoy.

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Dinner needed to be quick and simple. I was roasting some baby potatoes in the oven with extra virgin olive oil and salt, and I had chicken tenderloins ready to saute. I wanted a straightforward, kid-friendly salad to complete the meal. You know me and my kids — if I combine a light salad dressing with lots of fruit and mild, crunchy romaine, I’m almost guaranteed success.

So I gathered a hefty pile of citrus, including the last of the mandarins from my mother-in-law’s tree, and I kept the salad fresh and fruity.

Ingredients for Recipe for Lemon Citronette with Mandarin, Mint, and Avocado

Delicious raw materials for a tasty salad.

Ingredients:
(Side or lunch salad, serves however many.)
1 heart of romaine, chopped.
4 mandarins, peeled, halved, and then quartered.
2 scallions, sliced.
1 avocado, quartered and sliced.
1 fistful of mint.
Zest of one lemon

Lemon Citronette:
(Use only what you need. Refrigerate extra for a couple of days.)
3 T extra virgin olive oil.
1 T fresh lemon juice.
1 clove garlic, smashed and minced.
1/4 tsp maple syrup.
Pinch of salt, to taste.

Recipe for Lemon Citronette with Mandarin, Mint, and Avocado

Ready to serve!


I created a nice bed of chopped romaine, and zested the lemon over the greens. I juiced the lemon, and made my citronette in a small jar. I chopped the mint and sprinkled it liberally over the greens. I peeled the mandarins, sliced them in half, then quartered them to expose the jeweled fruit, and I tossed them into the salad. I added the avocado, and when the rest of the dinner was ready, I drizzled my citronette over the salad, tossed, and served.

Plated Recipe for Lemon Citronette with Mandarin, Mint, and Avocado:

On the plate, and ready to be devoured.

The Verdict:
What could go wrong? Fresh, tree ripened, perfect mandarins. Creamy avocado. A bed of lush, crisp romaine. Zesty lemon and mint. It was just as perfect as it sounds. We ate it all.

Make it a Meal:
Pick your protein! Leftover chicken and steak both work well with this flavor palette, as do garbanzo beans.

Pack it to Go:
Pack the greens, mint, and lemon zest in a large glass or stainless steel. Make your dressing in a jar. Remember to put your avocado in your dressing jar so it doesn’t brown, or to leave it whole and slice it into your salad when you’re ready to eat. The mandarins can be peeled and sectioned by hand, so that the membranes keep the juices in the fruit segments instead of leaking onto the lettuce and wilting it. Alternatively, you can slice the mandarins as I did, and put them with the avocado in the jar of citronette, to prevent wilted lettuce. If the jar of dressing is small enough, simply tuck it into the larger salad container. Combine your dressing with your salad when you’re ready to eat it, fork toss (or pop the lid back on and give the large container a few quick shakes to combine), and enjoy.

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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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Early morning, time to make lunches. We had almost everything I needed for a couple of rocking southwestern salads, so I pulled all my ingredients out and got to work. No radishes in the house, so I used yellow bell pepper for extra crunchiness, and I went for pinto beans instead of black beans because, well, I felt like it.

Ingredients for Recipe for Salad with Southwestern Avocado Citronette, Pinto Beans, Mandarins, and Yellow Bell Pepper

All of the ingredients, ready to go.

Ingredients:
(Serves one as a meal.)
4 cups of arugula.
1/2 can of pinto beans, rinsed and drained.
1/2 yellow bell pepper, deseeded and sliced.
2 mandarins, peeled and sectioned.
2 scallions, sliced.
1 fistful of fresh cilantro.
Zest of 1/2 a lemon.

Southwestern Avocado Citronette:
(Use only what you need. Refrigerate extra for a couple of days.)
3 T extra virgin olive oil.
1 T fresh lemon juice.
1/2 avocado, spooned into jar.
1/2 clove of garlic, smashed and minced.
1/4 tsp cumin.
1/4 tsp smoked paprika.
1/2 tsp maple syrup.
Pinch of salt, to taste.

Recipe for Salad with Southwestern Avocado Citronette, Pinto Beans, Mandarins, and Yellow Bell Pepper

The finished salad, ready for the dressing to rain down and the fork to attack like lightning.


Since I was making two salads, one for me to eat at home and one for my husband to eat at work, I doubled all of the ingredients listed above. I started by laying down my lovely beds of arugula — mine in a bowl, his in a stainless steel container with a tight fitting lid. I rinsed and drained the pinto beans, setting them aside in a sieve to drain a little more while I worked. I zested the lemon over the greens, and crafted my salad dressings in twin jars. In this case, that included measuring out the ingredients, and spooning the avocado into the jars as well. I shook them up and tested them by dipping a leaf of arugula into the citronette and tasting for salt and flavor balance. I peeled and sectioned the mandarins. (Yes, they are far more beautiful when they are sliced open and the jeweled fruit is exposed, but those plain little membranes keep the citrus juices from wilting the greens.) I chopped the yellow bell pepper, the scallions, and the cilantro, and added all of my ingredients to my beds of arugula. I nestled my husband’s jar of citronette in with his salad and snapped a picture before popping the lid back on.

Salads just don’t take that long to make — twenty minutes or less of chopping and mixing, and you’ve got a deliciously nutritious meal, for now or later.

Recipe for Salad with Southwestern Avocado CItronette, Pinto Beans, Mandarins, and Yellow Bell Pepper

Here's the same salad, packed to go!


The Verdict:
You know what I thought of this. I loved it. Juicy citrus, creamy beans, crunchy bell pepper, peppery arugula… This is a can’t fail recipe for me, and, once again, it succeeded.

Make it a Meal:
Done.

Pack it to Go:
Done.

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When I was little, and we had a big enough group of people gathered together, sometimes we went to a local ice cream parlor that had an enormous, crazy sundae called “The Kitchen Sink.” It had everything. It was the size of an actual kitchen sink, with an obscenely large number of different flavors of ice cream, covered in all the toppings they had. Every bite was different, and fun, and I ate it with a gaggle of happy friends at birthday parties, after soccer games, or after drama and dance performances.

This salad reminded me of that sundae.

I had plans for pork tonkatsu (or at least my made-up bastardized version of it) for dinner. I also had nice little brown and serve sourdough rolls from a local bakery. I wanted a big, crazy salad to complete the meal. I like sweet with pork, so I knew I’d be including some candied pecans. I was in the mood for blue cheese, so I added that to the mix. I had gorgeous baby greens, so the bed was determined. I needed some crunch, so I grabbed half a cucumber and what was left of a red bell pepper. A balsamic vinaigrette would tie it all together, and I tossed in some mushrooms to soak up the tasty salad dressing like little sponges. Mushrooms, as you know, are made to be coated in balsamic vinaigrette. It was a wild, vibrant combination. My own little kitchen sink of a salad.

Ingredients for Recipe for Salad with Blue Cheese, Candied Pecans, and the Kitchen Sink

Ingredients, ready for their transformation!

Ingredients:
(Side salad, serves 3-4.)
6 cups of mixed baby greens.
5 scallions, sliced.
1/2 red bell pepper, deseeded and sliced.
1/2 english cucumber, quartered vertically and sliced.
5 medium mushrooms, sliced.
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese.
1/2 cup candied pecans.

Greens for Salad with Blue Cheese, Candied Pecans, and the Kitchen Sink

A colorful bed of baby greens, ready for the party.

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

I created a lush bed of baby greens, and quickly mixed up my balsamic vinaigrette in a small jar. I quickly chopped my vegetables and gently laid them in the salad bowl. I added the nuts and cheese, and let it all sit for a moment while I dealt with the tonkatsu. Once the rolls were out of the oven and the pork was ready to eat, I drizzled my balsamic vinaigrette over the salad, tossed it, and served it up.

Salad with Blue Cheese, Candied Pecans, and the Kitchen Sink

Ready for that yummy balsamic vinaigrette!


The Verdict:
I got exactly what I wanted — crazy, strong, fun flavors. The sweet nuts worked well with the pork, the mushrooms were delicious, and the blue cheese gave it all an extra creamy flavor kick. I loved it. The kids were not impressed, but my husband gobbled it up right alongside me.
Plated Salad with Blue Cheese, Candied Pecans, and the Kitchen Sink

On the plate, ready to be devoured!


Make it a Meal:
With the nuts and the cheese, I think it would already work as an amazing meal.

Pack it to Go:
Easy. Put your salad in a glass or stainless steel container with a tight fitting lid, and your vinaigrette in a small jar, nestled in the greens. Drizzle the dressing (just as much as you want, to taste) over the salad, fork toss or put the lid back on and give it a few quick shakes to combine. Enjoy!

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