Asparagus and Pea Spring Salad

FullSizeRenderIt doesn’t get any fresher than this springy salad featuring asparagus, peas, and spinach. I first tried the Asparagus Ribbon Salad (from Better Homes & Gardens April 2017 issue) for Easter, and our guests all thought it was dee-licious. I made it per instructions the first time, except for the requested arugula, as it’s expensive and I think it has a bitter bite. So I subbed in Bibb lettuce (aka: butter lettuce) and added some spinach—just because I like to add spinach to dishes whenever possible! Good call on the Bibb lettuce, as it was the perfect compliment to the tender asparagus. It was a nice side salad with ham and cheesy scalloped potatoes potatoes (need to post that one), and a refreshing way to serve the green spears, rather than just microwaving and squirting with lemon.

FullSizeRender-2But I thought the long ribbons of asparagus were kind of awkward to eat, and were a total pain in the keister (yet worth it for Easter…) to prepare. Chopping them into 1-2 inch pieces is easier to do, and easier to eat. I also found the vinegar in the BH&G asparagus-pea pesto recipe to be too sharp—asparagus is such a subtle veggie, and I thought lemon might be a better choice for an acid in the pesto. Then because I CANNOT turn my foodie brain off, I thought I’d boil up some eggs and chop some leftover Easter ham on top to make it a whole meal deal. Loved it!!! It was so tantalizing, my co-worker Ben even asked me for the recipe when I brought a salad to work. Or rather, he said, “Hey Kaaren (his wife), you should get that recipe from Cheryl…”

Here you go, Ben (ahem, I mean Kaaren…).

Serves 6-8

For Side Salad
2 bunches asparagus
3 cups frozen peas, divided
3 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered
½-1 lemon, juiced (¼-½ cup)
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ of an English cucumber, sliced into quartered
2 heads Bibb lettuce, cored and chopped
2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

For Main Meal Salad
2 cups chopped ham
6 hard boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
1 cup grated white sharp cheddar cheese

Fill a large bowl with cold water and add ice. Set aside to us in blanching asparagus. Trim or snap touch ends off asparagus, then chop into 1 or 2-inch pieces. Fill a medium saucepan with water, add 1 teaspoon salt, and bring to a full rolling boil. Add fresh asparagus, and cook 2-3 minutes, or until bright green. Using slotted spoon, gradually transfer all the asparagus to the bowl of ice water. Let sit for about 5 minutes, then drain. Rinse the frozen peas under cold water then drain in separate strainer. Dab both asparagus and peas with paper towel to remove excess moisture. Toss asparagus, peas, and cucumber together in a bowl. Set aside.

To make asparagus-pea pesto, combine 1 cup of blanched asparagus, 2 cups of peas, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil in food processor and pulse to form paste. Add Parmesan and pulse to combine. Stir in 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Toss pesto with asparagus, peas, and cucumber until all ingredients are combined.

To assemble salad, spread Bibb lettuce and spinach on large platter, or 6-8 individual salad plates. Top with asparagus mixture for side salad. If making a main meal salad, sprinkle with chopped ham, chopped egg, and grated cheese.

Spinach Artichoke Hummus

FullSizeRenderA can of artichokes, and a few handfuls of fresh spinach make for a new twist on classic hummus. I found this recipe in the Fall 2016 edition of Lunds & Byerly’s Real Food magazine, and couldn’t wait to try it. My son Mitchell loooooves spinach in everything, so I wanted to see if this would be another way to give him his spinach fix next time he’s home from college. It was a nice dip for corn tortilla chips, and would actually be great with cukes, carrots, and jicama sticks as well. And if you’re a raw broccoli dipper, go for it. (I personally avoid broccoli in a raw veggie tray at gatherings. That, and raw cauliflower florets…those veggies are best eaten when roasted, if you ask me. But I digress!) If looking for some interesting appetizer ideas, this would be good to include in a hummus trio, with Spicy Sweet Potato Hummus (previously posted), and the classic hummus, for the true hummus aficionados. Serve with warm pita bread triangles, and your family and friends will gobble these up.

Serves 6-8

1 (14-ounce) can garbanzo beans*, rinsed and drained
1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained
3-4 cups fresh spinach
2 garlic cloves
4 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons tahini paste
½ teaspoon salt

Combine garbanzo beans, artichoke hearts, spinach, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, tahini paste, and salt in food processor, and pulse until smooth. Stop to scrape down side occasionally. Serve. Leftovers may be stored in a covered container in the frig for up to five days.

*NOTE: The original recipe called for soaking dry chickpeas overnight, and then boiling them for an hour, and letting them cool. That sounded like waaaaay too much work for me, so I used the canned chickpeas (aka: garbanzo beans). Also, I added more lemon (as noted above) then called for in the magazine recipe, as it seemed to need more zing.

Greens, Grapes, and Tuna Lunch Salad

IMG_1615OK co-worker Tom, it’s time to stop drooling over my lunch, and make your OWN salad! The base of this recipe is a fresh take on canned tuna, and was from the Whole30 cookbook. But I’ve embellished it to make a salad that I really love for lunch. It all started when we had inadvertently stock-piled on canned white Albacore tuna, and there were cans and cans of it crowding the cupboards. (Anyone else do that? Think, “Oh, I think we need THAT,” as you spot it at the grocery store, when in fact you’re positively swimming in that item already?) This recipe has been a great way to use up the plethora of tuna. You can just as easily use canned chicken—so grab whatever floats your boat! I like to make 4 of these salads at a time, and then refrigerate the ones I’m not taking for lunch. They keep quite well, and it’s a great time-saver for the morning rush.

Makes 4 salads

Whole30 mayonnaise:
1¼ cups olive oil (not extra virgin), divided
1 egg
½ teaspoon dried mustard
½ teaspoon salt
Juice of 1 lemon

In food processor or blender, combine ¼ cup olive oil, egg, dried mustard, and salt. Blend until combined. Very, very slowly, drizzle in the remaining 1 cup of olive oil with motor running, and process until oil is emulsified (thickened to mayo consistency). Add juice of lemon and pulse until combined. Refrigerate for up to one week, but no longer.

For tuna (or chicken) salad:
15 ounces (or 3 – 5.1 ounce cans) of white Albacore tuna or all white meat canned chicken, drained and flaked
½ cup Whole30 mayonnaise or Hellman’s real mayonnaise
Quarter of yellow onion, minced
1 tablespoon dill weed
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Combine all ingredients in bowl, breaking apart meat with fork. Set aside until rest of salad is assembled.

For base of salad, layer on 4 plates or in 4 plastic containers:
1 head romaine lettuce, leaves rinsed and dried, then jullienned
2 fistfuls of spinach leaves, julienned
3 scallions, sliced thin
2-3 stalks celery, sliced
3 slices of jicama (½-inch thick), cut into ½-inch cubes (optional) *
2 cups green grapes, sliced in half

Top greens and grapes with prepared tuna (or chicken) salad. Serve on plates, or cover container and refrigerate.

IMG_1614*NOTE: Jicama is also called a Mexican potato, and it is a deliciously crunchy addition to any salad. You peel off the tough outer skin with a paring knife, and then slice into sticks or cubes. Sticks can be dipped in dressing along with carrots and cukes. Cubes can top just about any salad. The high water content and slight sweetness make it a very refreshing veggie to nibble.

Greek Salad

FullSizeRender-1Leery of trying a Greek salad without feta and creamy dressing? I was too, until I tried this recipe from the Whole30 book, and enhanced it a bit to make it more to my liking. (Added spinach, avocado, jicama, cilantro, and used cherry tomatoes instead of whole tomatoes…Also layered instead of tossing.) The fresh ingredients and lemony dressing made for a tasty whole meal salad when topped with grilled, chopped chicken breasts. I made four salads—two to eat right away, and two for lunches the next day, but if you’re making it as a side salad, it should serve 6. We loved it, even without our beloved feta crowning the greens.

Serves 4-6

For dressing:
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Juice of ½ a lemon
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon coarse ground black pepper

For salad:
1 head romaine lettuce, chopped
½ of a 6-ounce bag of ready-to-eat fresh spinach, chopped
1 cucumber, chopped
3-4 thick slices of jicama, diced
½ of container of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
½ of red onion, minced
1 avocado, chopped
1 (12-ounce) jar of Kalamata olives, drained and halved
½ cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

Top with:
Grilled chicken breasts, chopped (optional)

Combine all dressing ingredients in a small bowl or jar and whisk or shake. Set aside.

Layer individual serving plates or large platter with lettuce and spinach. Add the remaining ingredients one at a time, starting with cucumber, and ending with cilantro. Drizzle with dressing. Add cooked chicken, if desired. Serve.

NOTE: This salad was great second day, not something you can usually say about a pre-dressed salad. I think that layering ingredients and drizzling dressing on top instead of tossing helped things stay fresh. It also helps avoid the dreaded gravity salad situation—when all the delightful heavy ingredients (like cukes and avocados) sink to the bottom, leaving only greens on top. Store in airtight container if making for next day.

Hot Mexican-style Spinach Dip

FullSizeRenderWith the Big Game coming up, thought I’d share this recipe for a creamy, hot spinach appetizer that’s a step above the Knorr’s soup and mayo dip we’ve all feasted on. (Remember when it was all the rage to serve that dip in a hollowed out round loaf of bread? That was looooong before Pinterest, so only the hostesses with the mostest were aware of that little trick.) I got this recipe from a friend many moons ago, and dug up the recipe to serve at a recent book club. The ladies loved it, and I promised I’d post it.

Chopped spinach used to only be sold in a solid 10-ounce brick, which takes forever and a day to thaw out. Now you can buy a bag of loose chopped spinach, and that’s usually about 16 ounces. It thaws much quicker, so I made this with the 16-ounce bag for my friends. It was extra spinachy, but no one turned into Popeye. So use whichever package you prefer. (I’ve always thought the spinach squished into a block was kind of strange. What’s the point? Storage issues? So you can teach kids geometry while you cook? Not sure on that one…)

Sometimes I divide this into smaller ramekins, and give each guest their own dish of this delicious dip. Avoids that whole double-dipping faux pas, and no one gets an elbow in the face from an over-eager dipper. It only needs about 20 minutes in the oven if you’re doing smaller individual-size portions.

Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2-4 fresh tomatoes (about 1½ cups), chopped, and excess liquid drained
2 tablespoons canned chopped jalapeño, or 1 fresh jalapeño, seeds and membranes removed, minced
1 (10-ounce or 16-ounce) package frozen spinach, thawed, and excess moisture squeezed out
2 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
8-ounce cream cheese, cut into ½-inch pieces, room temperature
1 cup Half and Half cream
2 (2.2 ounce) cans sliced black olives*
1 tablespoon red wine or apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400°. Heat oil in medium skillet; saute onions until translucent. Add tomatoes and jalapeño, and cook 2 minutes more. Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl, and stir in spinach, Monty Jack cheese, cream cheese, Half and Half, olives, and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon mixture into shallow 9″x9″ baking dish and bake uncovered for 30-35 minutes, or until bubbly and browned on top. Serve with tortilla chips.

NOTE: This dip can be prepared ahead, covered, and refrigerated for up to 2 days prior to baking. You will want to let it sit at room temp for an hour or so before baking.

*Also note that the cheap sliced black olives work best in this dish. I made this again for a gathering after initially posting it, and I used Kalamata olives, thinking that would take it over the top into a new realm of tasty goodness. It did not. They made it taste funky. Morale of the story, don’t waste your Kalamata olives in this dip!

Italian Sausage, Butternut Squash, and Spinach Soup

IMG_1058Cooler weather ushers in soup season, and nothing warms you better than a bowl of this hearty and savory butternut squash and sausage soup. I got the recipe from Café Latte on Grand Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota when the recipe was requested by one of my readers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Had to scale it down to make it fit for home use, and it was well worth the effort. BTW, this recipe tastes way better than it looks—the spinach adds flavor, texture, and nutrients, but takes away from its visual appeal. But I’ve brought this to several people in need of meals, and they’ve always raved about the flavor, after they’ve said, “It didn’t look like it would be good…” And since it makes a monstrous batch, it’s helpful that it freezes well!

Serves 10-12

Large butternut squash, approx. 3 pounds
1–1½ pounds Italian sausage
1½ cups diced yellow onions
3–4 red potatoes, diced
1½ cups peeled and sliced carrots
1½ tablespoon fresh garlic, minced
1 can (14 oz.) diced tomatoes, undrained
1–1½ tablespoons dried basil
6–8 cups water
3 tablespoons vegetable or chicken soup base
3 cups frozen chopped spinach (16 oz. package)
1½ teaspoons salt or to taste
1½ teaspoons pepper or to taste

Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit. Cut butternut squash in half lengthwise. Lay cut side down in 9″x12″ glass baking dish. Add 1-inch water to pan. Bake in oven for 1 hour, or until squash is tender when pierced with a fork.

Meanwhile, cook sausage in fry pan until no longer pink. Set aside. In large Dutch oven or stock pot, sauté onions until translucent. Add diced potatoes, carrots, and garlic. Sauté until carrots are tender to the fork. Add tomatoes and basil. With heat on high, add 6 cups water and soup base, stirring to combine base. Bring to a boil.

Scoop out cooked squash and add to pot along with cooked sausage. Stir to combine. Once mixture returns to a boil, add spinach. Add salt and pepper to taste. Reduce to low and let soup simmer for 30 minutes or more. Add 1–2 cups more water if needed.

Spinach and Artichoke Casserole

IMG_0910Casseroles are great because you can get most of your food groups in one dish, and the addition of artichokes in this recipe separates it from the tater tot hotdishes (that’s Minnesotan for “casserole”) of this world. It goes together quick enough that I’ve often made it before work and thrown it in the frig when we know we need dinner on the table in a hurry. It only takes about 30 minutes to assemble, and another 25-30 to bake. If you can’t eat it all in one sitting, no problem. It’s great left over, too!

The recipe comes from the Better Homes & Garden website. If you’re a Trader Joe’s fan, you’re in luck, because their Parmesan Romano Alfredo Sauce is perfectly suited to this recipe. In fact, you can pick up all the ingredients below at Trader Joe’s. I couldn’t find the suggested orzo pasta last time I was at their store, so I bought the Harvest Grains Blend of Israeli couscous, orzo, baby garbanzo beans, and red quinoa, and we actually liked it even better than the plain orzo because it has more texture. My other changes to the BH&G recipe? Added minced garlic, used a can of artichokes instead of frozen, subbed regular Alfredo for the light, and used white cheddar cheese instead of reduced fat Italian blend cheese. The ingredients and process below reflect my tweaking of the original recipe.

Serves 8

2 cups dried Trader Joe’s Harvest Grains Blend or orzo pasta
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 sweet red pepper, chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
12 ounces turkey (or chicken) breast tenderloin, cut into bit-sized pieces
4 cups fresh spinach, julienned, or chopped
1 (14 ounce) can of artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
1 (16 ounce) jar of Alfredo pasta sauce
1 cup shredded white Cheddar cheese
¼-½ cup Panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Have 9″x13″ (or 2-quart square) baking dish ready to fill. Cook couscous blend or pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside.

While pasta is cooking, heat oil in large non-stick skillet set on medium-high heat, then add onion. Saute until onion is translucent. Add red pepper, and saute 1-2 minutes. Add garlic and stir until combined. Add turkey or chicken to hot skillet and cook for 6-8 minutes, or until meat is no longer pink. Stir occasionally. Transfer meat mixture to large bowl and stir in drained pasta, spinach, artichoke hearts, Alfredo sauce, and cheese. Stir to coat all ingredients. Spoon mixture into baking dish.

Bake for 15 minutes, uncovered. Sprinkle with Panko. Bake for another 10-15 minutes, or until heated through, and Panko is lightly browned. Let stand for 10-15 minutes before serving. (Ummmm…we never do. Just dig in!)