Asian-inspired Salad Excitement

Asian Inspired Salad ExcitementIt’s hot. Boy, it’s hot — maybe too hot to even contemplate eating. But if you do have an appetite of any sort, this Asian-inspired dinner salad might be just what’s needed, and you don’t have to turn on the oven.

I wanted to make something that was as chock-full of textures as it was of flavors. There’s crunchy, crispy, and soft elements — and everything in between. It’s also a salad that’s open to substitutions, so don’t feel that you have to be married to the idea of roasted edamame if you can’t find any at your local grocery store. The ones I used are displayed by the cash registers as snack options at our local food co-op.

Serve dinner with a nice, cold Sauvignon Blanc or Sake. If you’re planning on leftovers for the next night, store the ingredients separately and toss right before serving.

Asian-inspired Salad Excitement

Serves 4

1 pound chicken thighs, cubed
6 shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 Tablespoon cooking oil
1 Tablespoon Hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce
1 medium carrot, shaved into thin slices
1 cup roasted edamame
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
4 cups baby greens
4 green onions, chopped
juice from one lime
a drizzle of teriyaki salad dressing

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Drizzle oil and coat the bottom of the pan. Add chicken, Hoisin, and soy sauce and cook until chicken just begins to brown. Add mushrooms and cook a bit longer, until the shiitakes soak up some of the sauce and become soft. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Add all ingredients into a large bowl, drizzling everything with the lime juice and salad dressing. Toss everything together and serve right away. For even more crunch, crumble some ramen noodles on top.

Dinner Salad with Farro

dinner-salad-with-farroLast week, Charles and I went to the Alsace Festival in Anderson Valley, something that has become a yearly tradition for us. It’s always a wonderful weekend filled with equally wonderful wines and sumptuous food, but after a few days of rich food and maybe a little bit too much wine… it’s good to have simpler fare.

For us, that usually means lots of greens and other healthy options. In fact, our bodies were craving tons of leafy greens and whole grains, so I threw together a salad which revisited our plates a couple more times during the week while we recovered from our libations. Other than lots of layering, this salad is about as easy as they come. We paired the salad with a lovely Muscat Blanc from Navarro. While we didn’t pick it up on this trip, it was an amazing Anderson Valley wine and was a nice companion to the many savory and sweet flavors of the meal.

Dinner Salad with Farro

  • Difficulty: super easy
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Serves 6

1 1/2 cups farro
12 cups mixed baby greens
1 pint fresh blueberries
4 Tablespoons nutritional yeast (for a savory, almost cheesy flavor)
1 pint white button mushrooms
1 pint yellow cherry tomatoes
5 oz. soft goat cheese (optional) (I used Truffle Tremor for a compliment to the mushrooms and nutritional yeast.)
12 green olives, sliced
6 Tablespoons slivered almonds
extra virgin olive oil
pear balsamic vinegar

Place farro in a fine sieve and rinse under cold water. Drain and put in a pot with 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then cover and cook over low heat for thirty minutes. Remove from heat and drain any extra water. Rinse under cold water to cool down the grains and let drain completely.

Evenly divide all ingredients (except olive oil and vinegar) onto six plates. Drizzle salads with olive oil and vinegar to taste and serve. This is a dinner that will make your belly feel good!

Winter Squash Soup

Winter Squash SoupYou ever spy a bunch of beautiful squash and end up buying them even though you have no idea what you’re going to make with them? No? Just me?

Well, that’s exactly what I did the other day. The winter squash had just been stocked, and it looked lovely. There was my favorite — red kuri squash, but while I was at it, the acorn and delicata looked good too, so…

Once I got them home, I thought the savory flavors of the kuri paired with the sweeter delicata and acorn would make a tasty soup. My instincts were right on. This is honestly in my top five recipe creations of all time. It was so good, rich and creamy and full of flavor. It will definitely be a regular player on the dinner table this winter. I paired it with a Paris Valley Road Chardonnay. While not usually a big Chardonnay fan, this wine was absolutely transformed by the soup, complimenting the sweetness and supporting the creaminess beautifully.

Winter Squash Soup

Serves 4-6

1 acorn squash
1 delicata squash
1 red kuri squash
2 Tablespoons butter
5 sage leaves
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
salt, pepper, and garam masala to taste
4 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock to make this vegetarian.)
sriracha to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cut squash in half and remove strings and seeds. (I kept some seeds for next year’s garden.) Place cut-side down onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and cook until a fork can slide into it, about 20 minutes.
Let cool. Scoop out the squash flesh from the skin. (I did this the night before and kept the squash in a reclosable bag in the fridge until I was ready for the next step.)

On the stove top, heat a saute pan over medium-low. Add the butter and sage and swirl around the pan until butter begins to turn a light brown. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl.

Return pan to stove, turn heat up a bit, and cook onion, garlic, salt, pepper, and garam masala until onions begin to turn translucent. Turn off heat.

In a blender or food processor, mix squash, butter and sage, onion mixture, and stock a little at a time (Probably around two cups each try) until everything is blended smooth. Pour blended mixture into a large pot and continue until everything has gone through the cycle.

Place pot back on the stove and reheat on low until soup begins to slowly bubble. Stir in a squeeze or so of sriracha for a bit of heat, and taste to see if any other spices need to be adjusted.

Spoon into bowls and serve with some crusty sourdough bread.

Avocado Pesto Pasta

avocado pesto pastaToday’s recipe began as a pin on Pinterest. I saw the beginnings of what looked like a pretty tasty – and vegan – meal, only to discover that my pin linked to a different recipe than the image shown. The recipe was not to be found on the blog. Sad face.

Anyone who uses Pinterest on a regular basis knows this is a danger, but dang it, I really wanted that recipe! Since I am who I am, I would not be foiled. I would make my own. And it was successful – and so very, very easy, too!

This concoction was paired with a Sangiovese, just right with the garlic tang and the avocado creaminess of the pasta sauce. The leftovers were a bit homely, as avocado browns quickly, but it was just as delicious as the first night.

Avocado Pesto Pasta

  • Difficulty: super easy
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Serves 4

pinch of salt
1 package whole wheat spaghetti (I used einkorn pasta.)
2 ripe avocados
juice from 1 lemon
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 head of fresh basil, stems removed
½ teaspoon of salt
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
1 package of grape or cherry tomatoes

Set a pot of water over high heat. Add a pinch of salt, and cook spaghetti to package directions. Drain.
While pasta cooks, toss the rest of the ingredients (except tomatoes) in a food processor or high performance blender. Pulse until everything is combined, then run until creamy.
Toss avocado pesto with pasta and tomatoes, and call it dinner.

Salad Days

nectarine saladThere’s just something about the tender-green of baby kale coupled with the sweet tang of nectarines that I’ve been finding extremely satisfying of late. This crisp salad is a mouthful of summer and delicious enough to tempt me away from evening writing projects.

bellafinaDinner arranged, the challenge of pairing was presented — the sparkle of the dish was heightened with a Prosecco, perfect for a balmy twilight.

My choice of the Bellafina Prosecco was a happy accident, an impulse purchase that had then been absentmindedly shoved into the back of the refrigerator. Maybe it was actually kismet, as the flavors of stone fruits, lemon cream, and almonds were harmonious with the varying sweet and lush flavors of the salad. The wine’s orange bitter finish was paradisiacal with the kale. Isn’t it marvelous how good food and great wine always seem to find each other?

Nectarines & Baby Kale Salad

two handfuls of baby kale
1 nectarine, sliced into thin wedges
1/2 avocado, cubed
a sprinkling of tamari pumpkin seeds
a sprinkling of shredded coconut (Leftover, perhaps, from your coconut shrimp?)
drizzle of poppy seed dressing

Toss everything together and serve right away, appreciating the crisp, refreshing qualities of both the salad and the Prosecco.

Grown Up Tuna Casserole

tuna casseroleFlipping through my ancient 4-H book the other day, I was reminded that I cooked a lot for my family when I was growing up. Then, like now, I obviously had something going on during the daytime and preferred easy-to-throw-together dinners that were filling and didn’t create a ton of dishes.

One of my much revisited dinners was tuna casserole. I tweaked it until I had a dish with more flavor than most of the traditional recipes but was still a crowd pleaser. (Always a must.)

Lately, I’ve been craving comfort food, and when I ran across a couple of packages of albacore tuna while rummaging around in the pantry, I knew what comfort food to focus on.

My only new considerations were that it needed to have a lot more vegetables in it than when I was concocting this dish as a child, and it needed to utilize the rather staggering collection of goat cheese I had amassed within the glowing cavern that is our refrigerator. The Frankensteinian creation that resulted was pretty tasty, but I think it could stand a bit more tweaking. Feel free to change the list of ingredients to what most appeals to your taste buds.

Grown Up Tuna Casserole

1 yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
16 oz whole wheat shell pasta
1 Tablespoon ghee
4 fire roasted peppers in oil, chopped
2.4 oz jar of capers, drained
pinch of dried dill
2 cups baby spinach
1 bunch Italian parsley, chopped
24 oz organic cream of mushroom soup
10 oz organic mixed mushrooms
salt & pepper to taste
6 oz albacore tuna
2 cups cheese (I used a combination of goat cheeses: drunken goat, capra bianca, and laychee)
Italian Herb Panko

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Put a pot of water on to boil. Cook pasta to package directions.

While waiting for water to boil, saute onion and garlic in a medium pan with the ghee until onions are translucent and beginning to brown. Lower heat and add peppers and capers. Stir until everything has warmed through and flavors have had a chance to commingle. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

In the same pan, cook the mushrooms until tender, but not to the point that all moisture has evaporated from the pan.

Once pasta has cooked, dump all of the ingredients into the pot, reserving a half cup of cheese. Stir everything together until cheese has melted. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top and follow with a layer of Panko.

Bake, covered, for 25 minutes. Remove lid and bake for ten more minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for five minutes before serving.

The following day, I added some smoked tuna to the leftovers. It was the perfect addition, helping all of the flavors to blend together just right. It was quite the Goldilocks moment.

Healthy School Lunches

While Jamie Oliver may have brought the issues with school lunches into the American consciousness, parents can be in even more control of their children’s lunches by packing those boxes themselves.

Children who eat a healthy diet have been found to concentrate more and perform better in school. A nutritious lunch is one in which fiber, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are all represented. Even though incorporating vegetables into meals can be the most challenging aspect, integrating them into something like a tuna salad sandwich with finely chopped red peppers can be quite successful.

Keep sandwiches appealing by using different breads, like pitas, tortillas, and foccacia. Instead of using processed lunch meats, use leftover chicken. Keep things interesting by sending hot soup or a cold fruit smoothie in a thermos one day and then thinly sliced veggies with hummus for dipping the next. Keep it simple by focusing on the three main requirements for a packed lunch – a main dish, a vegetable, and something sweet (like yogurt or fruit). Keep it fun by focusing on the cute factor – cut sandwiches into fourths, make pin wheel wraps, slice up an apple and rub it with lemon juice to keep it from browning, or use skewers (with rounded edges) for meats, cheeses, and veggies. Economize by creating your own trail mix that your child can snack on at their midmorning break. Remember that a lot of extra calories are consumed in drinks, so focus on water or milk. If your child still wants the occasional juice box, make sure it’s 100% juice, and stay away from soda and punch.

A good rule of thumb for healthy lunch box ideas is to consider what your grandmother, or even your great-grandmother, would have packed for her children. Steer clear of processed foods and high-sugar snacks. With a little bit of planning, preparation, and creativity, your children can have lunches that will be interesting, fun, and most importantly, nourishing.

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