Fresh Tomato Avocado Salsa

Need a quick topping for grilled fish or chicken? Try chopping up a few fresh veggies like this, drizzling them with balsamic vinaigrette and TA-DAAAH!!! You’ve just taken your dinner up a notch in flavor. I grabbed these ingredients thinking they’d pair well with my husband’s grilled tilapia the other night, and boy, did they ever. We gave it a solid 10 out of 10! So simple, there’s really nothing more to say—let’s just get to the recipe, if you can even call it that…

Makes 4-6 servings

1 cup grape tomatoes, halved and quartered
1 ripe avocado, chopped
2 slices yellow onion, diced
A few sprigs of fresh basil, chiffonade*
A splash of balsamic vinaigrette

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, stir, and ladle on top of cooked fish or chicken.

*NOTE: Chiffonade is the technique of bunching up herb leaves and chopping into fine, thin strips.

Mexicali Pie

This nummy Mexican-inspired casserole is one of my quick dinner go-to recipes for busy weeknights. We love the spice mix, and that it’s meat, a few veggies, and corn bread all in one meal. But we especially love that it’s great left over, and it travels well in a container, even when in Mitchell’s back pack, jostling around as he rides his bike miles and miles to work. Not every dish can pass THAT test. (Incidentally, my crazy son is riding his bike year-round—even in the January snow and ice of MinneSNOWtah.)

This recipe was published some time in 2003 in Family Fun, by Ken Haedrich, a contributing editor to that magazine at the time. He gave a list of spices to mix in, but I use Penzey’s chicken taco seasoning mix to make it easy on myself. I’ll give you the author’s spice mix below, in case you don’t do Penzey’s. (Which is easy to order online, so you totally can…) Note that the recipe called for ground beef, but I make it with either ground beef or ground turkey—both taste great.

I used to make a hot cheddar cheese sauce to ladle on top, but lately I’ve liked the fresher taste of an avocado, Greek yogurt, and some cilantro instead. The cheese sauce is great for comfort food in the winter time, but leads to that dreaded need for an afternoon nap. You know, the food coma. Since work-naps are frowned upon at my place of employment, it’s best to keep with the lighter toppings when bringing this for lunch.

Serves 8-10

1½ pound ground beef or turkey
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons Penzey’s chicken taco seasoning mix *
2 cups frozen corn, thawed, or 1 (15-ounce) can of corn, drained
2 (14.5 ounce) cans Mexican or chili-style diced tomatoes, or regular diced tomatoes

Corn Bread Topping
1 cup yellow cornmeal
½ cup all-purpose flour
1½ tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup milk
¼ cup vegetable oil

Diced avocado
Greek yogurt, or sour cream
Cherry tomatoes, halved
Shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit. Brown ground beef or turkey in a large non-stick skillet, breaking up as it browns. Use a slotted spoon to transfer all the meat to a mixing bowl. Drain all but about 3 tablespoons fat from pan. Put pan on medium-high heat and sauté onions until translucent. Add green pepper and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the minced garlic and the taco seasoning, and stir and toast spices until fragrant. Stir in corn and tomatoes. Bring mixture to a boil, cover pan, and reduce heat to low. Return meat to the pan and stir to combine.

Ladle meat mixture into a 9″x12″, 3-quart casserole dish, then make cornbread topping. In mixing bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Whisk egg, milk, and oil in separate bowl. Add milk mixture to dry ingredients and mix on low until blended. Pour batter over the meat mixture and even out with the back of a spoon. Bake for 22 minutes or until topping is golden brown, and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve with suggested cold toppings.

MAKE AHEAD TIP: You can make the meat mixture, put it in the casserole dish, and cover with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate. Then pull it out and just mix up the corn bread topping, pour it on, and bake.

*If not using Penzey’s taco seasoning, use:
2 teaspoons chili powder
1½ teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon flour

Apple Avocado Salsa

FullSizeRenderA little chopping of a couple apples, an avocado, and some herbs yields this sweet and sassy salsa. Apples get second-billing to all the pumpkin spice la-dee-dah stuff in the fall, but I’d take a juicy Honeycrisp over pumpkin-flavored treats any day. (Especially since pumpkin actually has no flavor, and it’s really the cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves everyone is gaga about!!! Let’s just stop the pumpkin madness, people.)

This super simple recipe was in the August 2016 Real Food magazine, put out by Lunds & Byerlys, and I tagged it to try as soon as Honeycrisp’s were in season, as those are my faves. It went together in a snap, and we served it as an appetizer to a meal of smoked chicken, and yellow rice and peas. The fresh and crispy salsa was a great complement to our comfort food, and a nice change-of-pace from tomato salsa. Our taste-testers this time were my son Justin and his girlfriend Ashley, and they both found the taste twist to be refreshing. I did sub in a Granny Smith apple for one of the sweeter variety, and that really helped. I also adjusted seasonings throughout the recipe. Tip: you’ll want to sharpen your knives and dice small, so you get a good mix of fruit bits on your chips. 

Serves 8-10

1 Granny Smith apple, cored, and diced
1 Honeycrisp apple, cored, and diced (or Gala, or other sweeter apple)
1 avocado, diced
½ cup cherry tomatoes, cut in quarters
1 scallion, sliced (use both white and green parts of the green onion)
1 fresh jalapeño, minced (remove stem veins, and seeds)
Juice of ½ of lime
1 teaspoon sugar
2-3 tablespoons of minced fresh cilantro
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in bowl, and toss to combine. Cover and chill for an hour to blend flavors. Serve with corn tortilla chips.

BLT Salad

FullSizeRender-1My mother has been blessing us with buckets of tomatoes from her garden, and the red orbs are threatening to take over the kitchen—so I’m kinda on a BLT roll. My husband was grilling brats one evening, and I wanted a side salad that we hadn’t had a gazillion times already. So I came up with this BLT combo and taste-tested it on our guests Andy and Nancy, and their daughter Emily, and they all thought it was da bomb. Thankfully, there was a little leftover so I could have it for lunch again the next day, ’cause I thought it was delish, too. I think the trick to infusing the greens with the “BLT” flavor, was sautéing the leeks in a little bacon fat. They really held onto the nuance of the bacon (if bacon has a “nuance,” that is…it’s sort of the bully of meats as far as taste.)

I considered a vinaigrette dressing for this salad, but since BLT’s are all about the mayo, thought I better stick with a creamy mayonnaise-based dressing. It was a good decision! It really enhanced the other ingredients, without over-powering. My only concern was that it was a little thicker than I would have liked, so it may need more vinegar to thin it down. I’ve given a range here, but I used just 1 tablespoon. More might make it too tart—try it and let me know!

Serves 6-8

For dressing
¼ cup Hellmann’s real mayonnaise
2 tablespoons fresh basil pesto
1-2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

For salad
1 leek, sliced thin to all but toughest green part*
1-2 tablespoons bacon fat
1 head Romaine lettuce, julienned
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
½ of a cucumber, sliced and quartered
2 ripe avocados, cubed
2 large tomatoes, diced, or 2 cups cherry tomatoes quartered
6-8 slices of bacon, fried crisp, drained on paper towels, and crumbled

To make dressing: Whisk together mayonnaise, pesto, and 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar. Add more vinegar if needed to thin. Set aside.

To make salad: Saute leeks in bacon fat over medium heat, until leeks begin to caramelize (turn light brown on edges). On large serving platter, layer lettuce, parsley, cooked leeks, cucumber, and avocados. Drizzle with dressing, then top with tomatoes, and crumbled bacon.

*NOTE: It’s best to chop leeks, then soak in a bowl of cold water, in order to let the sand and dirt settle to bottom of the bowl. Then scoop out the leeks and let them thoroughly drain in a colander before frying in the bacon fat. Leeks tend to hold on to a lot of dirt and sand between their layers as they grow. It’s rare to purchase a leek that has been thoroughly rinsed enough to cook it without soaking first.


FullSizeRenderSo easy, so fresh. The biggest challenge to making this delicious guacamole, is finding avocados at the perfect stage of ripeness. Too hard, and they won’t mash. Too soft, and they’ll have gone bad. It’s kind of like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. You have to look for avocados that are juuuuuuust right—when the leathery green skin yields slightly to pressure from your thumb. My son Mitchell likes freshly made guac so much, he says it’s his “chocolate,” meaning he craves it the way those with a sweet tooth crave the cocoa bean. We created this simple recipe when we couldn’t find a satisfactory ready-made version in the grocery store, and Mitchell’s been a happy camper ever since.

Makes 1 to 1 1/2 cups

2-3 ripe avocados
2-3 slices yellow onion, minced
Half of lemon, juiced
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika, optional
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper

In small bowl, combine all ingredients and mash. Serve with tacos, or dip guacamole with tortilla or pretzel chips. (Do I really need to tell anyone how to eat guac? I don’t think so!)

Haystack Taco Dip

Haystack Salad IMG_0608So many appetizers rely on a brick of cream cheese as base, but this taco-flavored dip is chock full of fresh ingredients like tomatoes and alfalfa sprouts—and no cream cheese! And it’s probably the best thing you’ll ever dip with a chip. It’s a great appetizer for graduation open houses or other buffets as it doesn’t need to be kept hot, or cold. In fact, that’s where I first tasted this concoction, at my friend Laurie’s open house for one of her daughters. Laurie called her recipe “Haystack Salad,” but my family has always called it “that taco dip.” Laurie’s directions were to use a can of Hormel no bean chili as the base, or refried beans in a pinch. It seems Hormel has quit producing that item—I’ve not been able to find no bean chili for several years now, and the refried beans work perfectly well instead.

One way to make this dip extra great, is to get some Penzy’s taco seasoning. It has less salt and more flavor than the stuff you get in the foil packets at the grocery store. You can order the taco seasoning through Penzy’s website, and hey, grab some cinnamon and vanilla while you’re at it! (Last time I ordered, they shipped free with a $50 order, so you might as well stock up on other spices and seasonings.)

The other thing you’ll like about this appetizer, is that it goes together in about 15 minutes (or less if you enlist the help of someone to shred cheese) and requires no baking. Have I convinced you to try this one yet?

Serves 10-12

1 – 16 ounce can of refried beans
4 tablespoons Penzy’s taco seasoning or 1 package of other taco seasoning
3 ripe avocados
1 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 – 4 ounce can of diced mild green chilies
1 – 4.25 ounce can of chopped ripe olives
1/2 cup chopped scallions (about 4 scallions)
1 cup shredded monty jack cheese
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
3 tomatoes, diced
1/3 to 1/2 container of alfalfa sprouts
Tortilla or corn chips

Combine refried beans and taco seasoning in a small bowl. Spread on the bottom of a glass 9″x13″ baking dish. In another small bowl, add avocados, sour cream, and lemon juice together and mash until combined. Spread on top of the refried bean mixture. Drain the green chiles, and sprinkle on top of the avocado layer, followed by the chopped ripe olives, then the scallions. Next sprinkle monty jack cheese, and then cheddar cheese. After dicing the tomatoes, strain them to get rid of the extra juice. Add tomatoes on top of the cheeses, and finish with the alfalfa sprouts. If not serving immediately, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Serve with tortilla or corn chips. But remember, no double-dipping!