As the weather cools and we look to comfort foods and slow cookers, I start to worry (more than usual, which is rather a lot) about my winter pounds. How can I get that satisfying, warm comfort food feeling without eating my way through mac and cheese and roast beef and pasta with sauce every night of the week?
One way I have found is the "warm salad" — which sounds like a contradiction in terms, but really it's not. It's not the same as a vegetable side that is cooked through and a different thing altogether.
No, the warm salad is just what it sounds like. Kale stands up to the heat rather well, so usually that's the base for my winter salads. I add hearty things like mushrooms, beets, beans and bacon to make the salad seem more like a meal, and usually it does the trick handily.
This is my favorite combination by far, and it's so great because it is a main dish that you can put together in about 5 minutes, and it's gorgeous on the plate.
Warm Mushroom and Kale Salad with Bacon Balsamic Dressing
2 large handfuls of kale, cleaned and de-stemmed
5 or 6 baby bella mushrooms, halved or quartered
2 large cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil (I like a flavor infused one for this — I used garlic and sundried tomato this time)
3 strips thick-cut bacon
Warm your olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. When it's ready, toss in roughly chopped shallot and garlic, and let that saute for just a minute or two. I also add a dash of kosher salt here.
Next, toss in your mushrooms. Remember that this is not meant to cook the vegetables through, but rather just warm them and coat in flavors.
Last, toss in the kale and move it around with tongs until the green deepens and it wilts just a little bit.
Remove from the skillet and put on a large plate.
Add the bacon to the skillet and cook until crispy. Pour a couple of teaspoons of bacon grease over the salad, cut up the bacon and sprinkle on, and add a tablespoon or so of balsamic vinegar. Toss on a few pieces of shaved fresh Parmesan. I had some Parmesan crisps, so I added those instead of croutons for crunch.
To make Parmesan crisps, just make a few small piles of shredded Parmesan on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 F for just 3 minutes or so, until they are melted and beginning to harden. Let them cool, and they make a great garnish for many dishes.
This dish is low in carbs, if that's important to you, and I promise there is no flavor spared in the making of it.
This makes one large main-dish salad or 3 to 4 smaller side salads.
If you have never had Limestone Pizza's Warm Beet and White Bean Salad, you should rectify that immediately.
It is a beautiful winter salad that I would happily eat any time of year. It's vibrant in taste and color, and it's filling, so the name "salad" hardly does it justice. It's more of a "dish."
I went in to Limestone recently to have said salad, and it was already gone for the day. This is no surprise. If you have had the salad, you understand why it was sold out. But I was unable to sate myself with just the pizza, and continued to think about the beets all day long, until I simply had to go home and make something similar for myself.
I would never claim to have replicated Limestone's recipe. In fact, rather than try and be disappointed, I just made up a whole new salad that I hoped would suffice in the stead of Limestone's original.
I thought about the things that I find important, like texture, acid, sweetness and substance. I came out thinking that the best thing I could do would be make a beet panzanella, and that is just what I did.
Sweetness from apples and honey, the pucker of balsamic, earthiness of beets and spinach, the salty goodness of bacon, and crunch from sunflower seeds all appealed to me, mixed in with the heartiness of a rustic loaf. What is missing? I daresay nothing.
Rustic Beet Panzanella Salad
4 medium-sized beets
1 tablespoon olive oil
Dash of salt
3 strips bacon
3 cups baby spinach leaves
1/2 rustic baguette, cut into small cubes
2 tablespoons herbed goat cheese
1 gala apple
For the dressing
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1/8 teaspoon basil leaves
Dash of onion powder
Dash of garlic powder
Salt and pepper
Shake the dressing together in a jar with the lid screwed tightly on.
Heat the oven to 400 F. Cut the stalks off the beets and chop them into slices.
Roast them in olive oil and salt for 30 minutes. Fry the bacon and chop into small pieces.
Meanwhile, assemble the rest of your salad. Add spinach leaves, diced apple chunks, hunks of goat cheese and the bread pieces.
Top with beets, drizzle healthily with the dressing. Serve immediately.
This is summer. This is what it should taste like: Fresh, bright but a little earthy, too. Food that is meant to be eaten outside, in the sunshine, next to a body of water.
A beloved neighbor recently moved across town, far away from us, so we had a little goodbye dinner in the backyard for her, and she brought this delectable contribution. I ate my weight in it and then asked her for the recipe. It tastes better when you eat it among good friends, and better if you consume it outside, near water. But really, it will be perfection if you eat it huddled in a broom closet at work as well.
I've said before that I'm a bit new to the kale bandwagon, so I'm still learning things. Like, baby kale. Who knew! Even better. Less aggressive, nicer kale. You will pay a bit more for the kinder, gentler kale, but it is worth it for the occasional splurge. In the winter I am fond of frozen kale for casseroles and hot dishes, and in the summer, I'm all up on this baby kale. I'll make up for the cost of my summer kale fix with my winter frozen fare. It makes sense, doesn't it? SAY IT DOES.
Strawberry and Kale Salad
For the salad
6 cups fresh baby kale
1 pint strawberries, sliced
2 avocados, diced
4 ounces crumbled goat cheese or feta
1/4 cup sliced almonds (bonus points if you toast them in a little sugar)
1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced
For the vinaigrette
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon salt, preferably kosher or sea salt
Healthy dose of cracked black pepper
Gently toss the salad ingredients together, careful not to smear the cheese around too much or bruise the berries.
Shake the vinaigrette ingredients up together in a mason jar with the lid screwed on tightly, and then pour enough over the entire salad to get it covered but not sopping. I like to let the salad sit in the dressing for a little while before I serve it, because it kind of marinates the berries and gets everything nice and married.
I'm not saying this salad is inexpensive to create, so save it for a special occasion. But special, it is. Almost as special as my neighbor who moved three miles away from us and now feels like a pen pal. Julie, come back. And bring that salad with you.
While I don't really relish it, I find myself eating a lot of salads. Especially in the summer, I dutifully pull greens and vegetables out of the refrigerator almost every night as either the centerpiece of dinner or at least a supporting role.
I'm not a huge fan of salad — particularly of most lettuces — and I'm certainly not into gloppy store-bought dressing. But I realize the importance of ingesting a certain amount of green stuff on a daily basis and particularly of my need to be aware of putting extra fiber into my cooking in order to up the ante on my weight-loss efforts, so I go to the salad out of necessity more often than not. It's just, well, easy.
At least in the summer, I enjoy the heck out of a fresh vegetable. But I also admit that I really prefer my vegetables cooked.
I like to release the sugars and flavors in a vegetable by roasting or sauteing it, but that often means I have to add fat, and if I'm going to add fat to my meal — let's be honest — it's gonna be cheese. So how can I eat salads, get fiber, stay away from fat, and still enjoy the flavor bonus of a cooked veggie, you ask? Well, let me tell you. I have seen the light when it comes to salads, and it has a lot to do with cast iron. A charred vegetable can bring something to the salad party that can't be duplicated in any other way.
Using well-seasoned cast iron means you can impart a lot of flavor without adding much or any fat. And to me, a cooked tomato is far, far superior to a raw one. I know, I know, it's un-American, my lack of love for a summer tomato, but I am who I am, and I like my tomatoes cooked. I'm tired of apologizing for this affliction. Now, I embrace it.
I build most of my salads around spinach. I cannot tolerate (literally — it tears up my stomach) iceberg, and most greens don't pack enough punch for my dietary standards. If I am going to eat a salad, it dang well better serve its intended purpose of fiber and vitamins and all the other good stuff.
So, begin with spinach leaves, add charred vegetables, dress with a splash of balsamic, and you've pretty much got what I consider to be the healthiest thing I know how to eat. And you're going to enjoy it. I promise. It's going to feel special, not like a basic dinner salad at all.
Charred Vegetable Dinner Salad
6 cups spinach leaves, rinsed and dried
2 Roma tomatoes
1 cup corn kernels (best if they're fresh from the cob)
1/4 cup red onion, sliced paper thin
Olive oil (if you must)
This recipe serves 4 good-sized side salads. I make them in individual bowls rather than in one big one so that everyone gets equal access to the amazing veggies that will adorn each bed of spinach.
Heat your cast-iron skillet over high heat. Wait patiently for it to get good and hot. If it's not well-seasoned, spray a bit of cooking spray on there. Just enough to avoid sticking, but not so much that it actually makes your vegetables slick or saucy. This is dry roasting we're after here.
First, toss your corn into the skillet. Walk away. Seriously. Do not be tempted to mess with it. Maybe sprinkle a little salt and pepper on, but let it get good and black on one side before you start stirring it. Then toss it over and roast the other side. Remove the corn and set aside.
Let the skillet heat back up and then add the tomatoes. I quarter them and then brown on two sides.
Slice your avocado and your onion, arrange every salad with an equal amount of topping, and if you're me, just splash on a little balsamic for moisture and pep.
This could easily be made a meal with more vegetables and maybe a roasted shrimp or piece of chicken.
If ever I was to actually get excited about a salad, it's this one.
Mr. Meat and Potatoes, as supportive as he is of my health and dieting initiatives, is still, well, Mr. Meat and Potatoes. I can't go all vegetarian-quinoa-tofu on him. It's a constant challenge to come up with things he'll enjoy for dinner that won't completely blow the Weight Watchers bank. I'm getting artful at creating things we can modify to our own particular tastes or dietary standards. I mean, I could just throw out the tofu quinoa and be all "deal with it," but, frankly, I'm not that into quinoa or tofu and even more importantly, I'm no dummy. I know my husband married me because he ate my manicotti back when we were just roommates and I know where my bread, so to speak, is buttered. It is in my best interest to keep him culinarily happy. Not that I think he'd go out for a pack of cigarettes and never come back if I stopped making lasagnas, but I'd rather not rock that boat too hard.
We both really like red meat, but often I can't justify sitting down to a slab of beef on my plate. I need to find ways to get a steak fix without wanting to cry about it later. Enter, the steak salad. This way, I can cook a big sirloin, slice off a few ounces for my salad, and throw the rest in his general direction and say, "Do what you want." In this case, I left out all the salad fixins I used to create my own plate and I laid out some tortillas and suggested he make it all into a wrap or three.
Husband-Keeping Steak Salad/Wrap
1 large sirloin or flat-iron steak, (a pound or so, depending on your husband's appetite)
Several handfuls of fresh spinach leaves
1 tablespoon chopped walnuts
1/2 green apple Handful of sugar snap peas (chopped for salad) 1 tablespoon goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 yellow bell pepper, julienned
1/4 cup sliced red onion
For the dressing
2 tablespoons lite mayo
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar or honey
Good shake of garlic powder and basil
Pinch of kosher salt
Cracked black pepper
Whisk ingredients together then shake it all up in a small mason jar.
Cook your steak to your specifications. I, honestly, prefer a medium-rare, cast-iron-pan-fried steak to any other method, but to each his own. For the dieting types, slice off five or six thin strips — as much as your diet will allow plus one — and leave the rest for the people with hollow legs.
Arrange the spinach leaves on your plate and toss on a few of the toppings (save some for the rest of the family). Arrange your beef slices on top of everything and drizzle a tablespoon or so of the dressing. I loved this. The walnuts and steak made it really filling, and it had all sorts of flavors and little "cheats" on there that made it feel like a "real" dinner — not something to make me feel sad and deprived.
Plus, pretty! It would be a great thing for a girls lunch and also works well all wrapped up together in a tortilla (I'd leave out the apple and walnuts, but hey — maybe you live dangerously) as an awesome steak wrap for those who are not afraid of gluten and carbs.
My sister discovered years ago that she was really OK with a crudite platter (otherwise considered mostly boring and useless) if it included sugar snap peas (and a decent dip — come on, people, we can do better than bottled ranch). She also proclaimed that she was "over lettuce salads" and started concocting little salads that had nothing to do with greens whatsoever. These also usually featured her friend, the sugar snap pea. Since then, I've been trying to incorporate them into my menus at every opportunity.
When I made dinner of mango turkey meatballs and rice recently, I wanted a light side that didn't take long to create, so I yanked my ubiquitous sugar snaps out of the refrigerator and went to town.
The result was a refreshing departure from my usual sides of gloppy green salads or roasted vegetables. It was also really pretty on my plate, and in my book that counts for a lot. In a world of "hot, brown and plenty of it," I yearn for "fresh, colorful and light" sometimes — especially when the weather warms up and we're past the days when you need lots of warm food to soothe your soul.
Since we were having turkey meatballs and rice with a somewhat Asian flavor palette, I stuck with that theme and included vegetables and flavors that I thought fit as an accompaniment. I love soy sauce, so it's always a good place to start.
From there, I just added ingredients until it tasted "right" — all things that always are in my refrigerator since I do a lot of stir fry.
This recipe serves about 4 people as a relatively large side dish, but it would be easy to increase the volume to serve a crowd.
Sugar Snap Salad
3 cups sugar snap peas, chopped into bite-sized pieces (about thirds)
1 yellow bell pepper
1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 orange — 1/4 cup fresh juice and 1 teaspoon zest — about half the peel)
1/4 cup soy sauce
3/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon water (for volume)
Dash of Sriracha
1/2 teaspoon ginger (either fresh or powder)
2 teaspoons honey
Cracked black pepper
Cut up your peas, slice your onion, and julienne your pepper (a red pepper would work too — just liked the color of the yellow).
Then make your sauce. Combine the rest of the ingredients and whisk together. I used the zester that makes the long thin strips — not the microplane — for this because I really wanted that zest to play a starring role. It comes together really quickly and makes a gorgeous and unusual presentation on your plate.
I think I'm going to start making it in large quantities as my go-to summer salad to take to back yard barbecues and campouts. It's a nice break from the world of potato salad and cole slaw (not that there's anything wrong with those).
Welcome to the world of sugar snap peas. You can thank my sister.
Friends, I'm back on the Weight Watchers.
This doesn't mean that you won't ever see a cheese-laden dish again in this space, but they will be fewer and farther between. Pool season approacheth and I've got some baby weight (all right, a LOT of baby weight) to rid myself of before I can don the dreaded swimsuit.
Also, with the onset of spring, our evenings get a lot busier. We want to be outside more and have more and more activities planned, so standing around in the kitchen watching water boil just isn't really practical in these months. I asked Mr. Meat and Potatoes tonight "What's for dinner?" t was supposed to be funny because he never makes dinner save the occasional frozen pizza that he admittedly always cooks to perfection. (Yes, there is an art to perfect frozen pizza-making.) But he didn't take the bait and instead quickly replied "The Big Salad." He's being supportive of my weight efforts even if it is killing him slowly inside.
The Big Salad is pretty much any salad I make that serves as a meal in itself and includes a good helping of meat.
Tonight's big salad was a perfect Weight Watcher meal because it lacked cheese or any sort of fattening, creamy dressing. Still, it was flavorful and filling, and that's what we're going for, right?
Asian Big Salad
6 chicken tenders
Several large handfuls of spring mix greens
4 or 5 green onions
1 red bell pepper
Handful of cilantro leaves
1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds
1/8 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
4 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon Sriracha
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced
2 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Pinch of kosher salt
Combine all the ingredients for the dressing and shake or stir well.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lay your tenders in a small baking dish. Pour half of the dressing over them, shake some sesame seeds over the top, and bake for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, assemble your salad. I like to julienne the carrots and bell pepper into thin strips. Use white and green parts of the onions. Peel and section your orange and shake on a few more sesame seeds. Pour the rest of the dressing over and toss to coat.
So colorful and delicious!
Serve the chicken atop a large portion of the mixed salad. You can serve the chicken hot or let it cool in the refrigerator — however you prefer.
This is ready in about 30 minutes and requires minimal cleanup (especially if you, like me, line your baking dish with aluminum foil before you put the chicken in). Perfect for a spring evening meal.
Weight Watcher Points Plus Values: 5 per serving
We were invited to a friend's house for Easter and decided to take her up on it this year. I cannot tell a lie, I was happy to have someone else do the hosting and to skip making ham and scalloped potatoes.
She has a fabulous country home, and it seemed like a perfect place for an egg hunt and a relaxing Easter celebration.
This friend is a total "Martha" — she's an amazing hostess and her dinners are always a cut above. The food is unique and lovely and everything is gorgeous. So when she asked me to bring a salad, I knew I had to bring my "A" game. No bag of pre-made salad was gonna cut it.
Rather than try to invent a complicated salad, I wanted to bring something that would appeal to everyone from kids to adults, vegetarians and carnivores alike. And, of course, presentation was important since I was going to a party that would rival one at Martha's estate. I went with a riff on a chef's salad, but I only included the parts that appealed to me. I had leftover eggs from the egg-dying escapades from the day before, and I wanted to use them up. Also, this was an excuse to cook some bacon, so the whole thing just made sense.
You can do this with whatever salad ingredients you like, but please, please, don't skip the bacon. It's everyone's favorite part.
Deconstructed "Chef's" Salad
1 large container mixed spring greens
1 container grape tomatoes
1 container button mushrooms (sliced saves a step)
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
4 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
10 pieces of thick-cut bacon, cooked and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 large block Swiss cheese, cut into cubes
I served this in a wooden serving tray so things wouldn't roll off in the transport, but it would also be pretty on a large platter. The trick is to just pile the lettuce in the middle and then arrange all the ingredients around the edge so people can put whatever they like on their salad.
This is great if there are kids around so they can just pick the parts they like (read: cheese and bacon) and adults, too, can forgo the parts that don't agree with their palates or dietary restrictions.
Serve with a jar of homemade runny ranch dressing. Perfection.
1 cup mayo
1/2 cup sour cream
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chives, minced
2 teaspoons minced dill
Dash of hot sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon white vinegar
Stir well, chill, and serve.
Beautiful, but simple. My favorite kind of party dish.
Since I'm used to working five or six days a week, I never have to worry about the "What's for lunch" question. For me, it's usually easily answered with "whatever the cook made" at the center where I work. Or, I have a Tupperware container with last night's leftovers in tow. My stay-at-home mom friends have long lamented that they "HATE LUNCH" and I never really understood. What's to hate? Throw together a sandwich or some mac and cheese, right?
It took me one week of maternity leave to understand "I HATE LUNCH." How much Kraft Dinner can a girl handle?
Still, I was only a week post-op and standing in the kitchen doesn't sound awesome yet, so I needed to think up some ways to make myself a lunch that would satisfy my foodie needs but not cost me pain or suffering in the process.
I pulled a bag of pre-cut coleslaw out of the crisper drawer and looked at it. What good is it to me? Well, first of all, it looks easy. I can work with that. I also have taken to keeping a bag of shrimp in my freezer. I just pull a few out whenever I need to add a little protein to a salad or up the ante on a soup. This looked promising in the "fast, healthy, but interesting" lunch quest.
I whipped up a little lunch of Asian Slaw and Spicy Shrimp and it was, in a few words, stupid crazy good.
For the Slaw:
1 bag precut slaw with carrots
1 bag frozen, shelled edamame
1/2 red onion
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon (less if you don't like heat) sriracha sauce
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 cup water (for volume)
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds
I used my food processor to slice the onion because I wanted it paper thin and I'm also lazy, but you wouldn't have to do that. You could just slice it thin your own self. Pour the whole bag of edamame in a bowl and cover with water. Microwave for 5 minutes. Remove from the water and chill (to speed this up, ice it down).
Add the edamame and onion to the slaw mix.
Whisk together the rest of the ingredients and pour over. This is best if you do it a day in advance so it has a chance to marinate and soak up.
When you are ready to eat, prepare your shrimp.
For the shrimp:
5 or 6 large shrimp, thawed
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons olive oil (mine was hot pepper infused), divided
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sriracha
2 tablespoons water
Whisk together the water, sesame oil, 1 tablespoon of olive oil (or hot chili oil), soy sauce and sriracha. Soak the shelled and deveined shrimp for a couple of minutes while you heat the rest of the olive oil and a drop or two of sesame oil in a skillet over medium high heat.
When the oil is hot, add the shrimp and pour the marinade over.
Cook shrimp for about two minutes on each side, maybe less on the second side.
Place the shrimp on top of a bowl of slaw and ENJOY. This will not feel like your average "What's for lunch - AGAIN" meal. It's diet-friendly (and can be more so by reducing the sugar in the dressing or the oil in the marinades), delicious and packed with good protein.
The leftover slaw can be used for repeat lunches or as a side for a family dinner later in the week.