Asparagus and Pea Spring Salad

It 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.

But 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.

Roasted Beets, Shallots, and Feta Winter Salad

FullSizeRenderThere’s something autumnal about this salad with roasted beets, shallots, and leeks that makes it perfect cold weather fare. I made this one up for my friends Marylee and Marcella, to serve the day after Thanksgiving when I did NOT want to do turkey soup or a mashed potatoes and gravy repeat. Tired of multiple treks to the grocery store prior to Thanksgiving, I wanted to work with what was in my frig. Since I had the shallots and leeks on hand, I thought I’d see how they paired with cooked beets. The nuttiness of the shallots and mildness of the leeks worked really well as compliments to the beets, and the crunch of walnuts and tang of feta rounded out the flavors really well. I whisked up a dressing of balsamic vinegar with a touch of Dijon, and we all dubbed this delicious salad a wintertime winner. 

Follow the directions below to roast and peel the beets with minimal mess. I served the salad pictured here as a side to leftover sweet potatoes and turkey. I put the warm, cooked beets right on the salad, drizzled the dressing, and we gobbled it up (Thanksgiving pun intended!). But I had a leftover beet that I refrigerated, and the next day I made this salad for lunch with the cold beet. It was just as good cold as warm, so do whatever is easiest for you!

Makes 4-6 salads

4-5 beets—cut off stems and tips of root
1 cup walnuts
3-4 shallots, chopped
2 leeks, with slices of white and light green parts only
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 cups spring greens mix
½-1 cup feta cheese *

For Dressing:
¼ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (I used creamy, not coarse ground)
Dash each salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375° Fahrenheit. Scatter walnuts on baking sheet and pop in oven for 5-10 minutes or until they start to toast. Remove and let cool. Wrap each beat in a square of aluminum foil to cover, and place on a baking sheet. (May also want to cover baking sheet with foil to help with clean up, as beets will leek juice as they cook.) Bake for 1 hour. Remove from oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes. Once cool enough to handle, put on rubber gloves and peel off foil, then rub skins off of each beet with your thumbs, and discard skin. Place peeled beets in a bowl and keep handy for salad.

To make dressing, combine olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sugar, Dijon, salt and pepper in container with a lid and shake until all ingredients are incorporated. Set aside.

In frying pan set on medium-high heat, add shallots, leeks, and olive oil. Sauté and stir until golden brown. Set aside. Add a handful of mixed greens to individual plates (about 2 cups), and top each mound of greens with the cooked shallot mixture, dividing between salads. Chop each roasted beet into bite-sized cubes, and place 3/4 to 1 whole beet on top of each salad. Add toasted walnuts, and a sprinkle of feta cheese. Drizzle with dressing and serve.

*NOTE: You could also try this with blue cheese, but that might be a little too sharp for this salad. I was going to use the blue, but when I pulled my container from the frig, it was bluer—and fuzzier—than I think it was supposed to be. So we went with the feta instead. I’m pretty sure your cheese shouldn’t be fuzzy…

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.

Pear, Pecan, and Blue Cheese Salad

FullSizeRender-1The bite of blue cheese paired with the sweetness of candied pecans* and fresh pears make for a myriad of flavors in this salad. When pears are in season, it’s a great way to use up a stash that’s all ripened at the same time. (Anyone else have that happen? Green, green, green…oh no! They’re all ripe NOW!) And where did I get this winner? From my friend and co-worker Tom, a single guy who claims to not know how to cook, and who has been my number one blog fan (but not in a creepy “Misery” kind of way…). His Mom shared the recipe with him, which she’d found in the November 2015 edition of allrecipes.com. It was touted as the perfect first course at a Thanksgiving dinner, but my friend Marylee and I made it for lunch on a hot, June day, and it was juuuuuust right. I did make a few adjustments—doubled the amount of pecans (but not the sugar), upped the Dijon mustard, and added some cukes to the salad. They suggested using Roquefort cheese,* as it’s supposed to have the best flavor, but I couldn’t find it at Costco on my weekly trek. So I used run-of-the-mill blue cheese, and it was simply delicious.

Makes 4 main dish, or 6 side salads

For candied pecans:
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 cup pecans

For dressing:
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon salt
Dash course-ground black pepper

For salad:
1-2 heads romaine lettuce, julienned (about 8-10 cups)
3-4 pears, cored and cubed
1 cucumber, sliced and quartered into bite-size pieces
1-2 avocados, diced
4-6 scallions, sliced thin (aka: green onions)
6 ounces Roquefort or blue cheese, crumbled (about 1 cup)

Combine sugar and pecan halves in small skillet on medium heat. Stir gently until sugar has melted and caramelized and adhered to the pecans. Transfer nuts to a piece of tin foil and set aside to cool. (Try to break up nuts as you place on foil.)

In clean glass jar—or whisk in a bowl—combine olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon, garlic, salt, and pepper for dressing. Set aside.

Layer lettuce, pears, cucumbers, avocados, scallions, and blue cheese on a large platter or 4-6 individual plates. Drizzle with dressing. Break up cooled candied pecans, and sprinkle on top just before serving.

*NOTES: If you don’t have time to make the candied pecans and let them cool for your salad, you can purchase Planters honey roasted peanuts, and sprinkle those on top of your salad(s). The snack pack size is perfect for an individual salad. The candied pecans or honey roasted nuts really are an essential ingredient to this salad recipe!

Roquefort cheese is aged exclusively in the Combalou caves in France, and is known for it’s creamy texture, as well as fabulous flavor. No wonder I couldn’t find it at Costco. That’s just too uppity for a big box store.

Tin Bins

IMG_0914Eating by the St. Croix River during a balmy summer or fall day in Stillwater, Minnesota makes any meal a tranquil experience. Savoring breakfasts, sandwiches, or salads as delicious as the fare offered by Tin Bins is an added bonus. Fresh bakery goods, coffees and espressos tempt from the moment you approach the counter to place your order. Regulars and first-time visitors line up for just a pastry and a cup of joe, or for a tasty breakfast, fresh lunch, or light dinner. If you’ve come for a meal and not just drinks and treats, there’s plenty of interesting options to choose from.

The basket pictured here housed a toasted ciabatta bun with Rondelé garlic cheese spread and honey toasted pecans, with sliced apples and provolone as well. My sandwich had ham added, a suggestion from our server. I had commented on the sandwich being vegetarian, and she’d said, “Oh, you can add some ham, and then get a side salad of greens and strawberries.” It sounded great, so I agreed. Then when my meal was delivered, there were huge chopped ham chunks plopped on top of the salad. Apparently I gave a colossal eye-roll at the error, which cracked up my cousin Vonnie as I marched back into the kitchen to ask for slices on my sandwich…instead of cubes smothering the greens. Once the situation was amended, I thoroughly enjoyed the salad that was loaded with tender greens, fresh berries, and drizzled with a zesty vinaigrette. The toasted bread warmed the herbed cheese and honey pecans, making for a wonderfully light and tasty sandwich. My other relatives enjoyed their meals as well—the fresh ingredients were perfect parings with the herbs and seasonings.

Tin Bins doesn’t just offer interesting food—the history of the place is intriguing as well. The grain elevator structure tells you of it’s humble beginnings. Then the place had a stint as a climbing gym and outdoor clothing store called Otterfitters. Next Mike McGuire, one of the owners of the neighboring Dock Cafe bought the building to provide a venue a little different than the Dock, a place with a European coffee shop vibe. To further the Euro flare, the Tin Bins offers poetry readings on Thursday nights, and bands or acoustic guitar on Friday and Saturday evenings. Even with all that evening entertainment available, they say breakfast is their most popular meal. Whether you go for breakfast, lunch or dinner, patrons settle in at the outdoor patio or trendy tables indoors, and are in no hurry to leave their serene surroundings.

Tin Bins

413 Nelson Street East, Stillwater, MN 55082
(651) 342-0799
Parking available next to building.

Current Hours

Monday–Wednesday: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Thursday schedule varies due to poetry readings: usually 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Friday & Saturday: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., bands or acoustic guitar
Sunday: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Visit tinbinscafe.com for current entertainment schedule and menu.

Crunchy Cauliflower and Pea Salad

IMG_0963Trying to get kids—or picky adults—to eat their veggies? This crunchy salad loaded with fresh cauliflower, celery, and peas might just convert some veggie-haters into lovers. Ranch is the base of the dressing, and then there’s bacon…so I rest my case. I think I got this super easy recipe from a women’s magazine ad promoting Ranch dressing, from when Ranch was new player on the food scene (80’s or 90’s?). I will say that the cashews are delicious in the salad, but if you’re not going to consume the whole bowl in one sitting, they soften and take on the texture of mushrooms by the next day. So only add the cashews to the amount of salad you think will be eaten first time around. Otherwise, the salad is fine leftover the next day!

This is a nice year-round recipe, as the ingredients are available any time. It’s especially good with spring and summer menus, as a side to grilled meat, burgers, or brats, and even better if you’re bored with beans and slaw. And as excited as we Midwesterners are about summer when the first blades of green grass appear, we do get to that point. Am I right, people?

Serves 6-8

10 ounces fresh shelled peas, or frozen
2-3 cups fresh cauliflower florets, in bite-size pieces
1 cup diced celery
1 sweet red pepper, diced
1/4 cup diced scallions
6-8 slices crisply cooked bacon, crumbled
1 cup cashew halves

For dressing

1 cup Ranch dressing
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove fresh garlic, minced

If using frozen peas, rinse in cold water in strainer, and allow to drain. In large bowl, combine cauliflower, celery, red pepper, and scallions. Once peas are drained, add those as well.

In medium bowl, combine Ranch dressing, sour cream, Dijon, and garlic. Beat with wire whisk until dressing and sour cream are smooth. Pour over vegetables, and toss to combines. Add crumbled bacon and toss again. Add cashews just before serving.

NOTE: If using a gluten-free Ranch option, this recipe is gluten-free. Leave out nuts if you’ve got nut-allergy folks in your circles, and it tastes just fine without them. The bacon gives it enough flavor so you won’t really miss the cashews. The bacon also removes it from the vegetarian dish category…sorry.

Lemon Caesar Salad Dressing

IMG_0919Fresh summer salads need a fresh summer dressing, and what tastes fresher than the zing of real lemon? This dressing recipe make-over from a Pillsbury Classic Cookbook circa August 1991 (those little grocery store booklets sold in the check-out lanes next to the trashy tabloids) uses sour cream as a thickening agent instead of the traditional coddled egg, so there’s no raw egg issues in this mix. I’ve made it with just torn romaine lettuce, grated Parmesan cheese, and big, buttery croutons, but that’s too limiting for this zesty salad topper. It’s great on any torn greens and vegetable combination you can dream up.

IMG_0924Pictured in my salad are curly leaf lettuce, chopped sweet red peppers and cucumber, jicama chunks, fresh basil, and grated heritage carrots (they’re purple—so they kinda look like bacon bits), and finally a sprinkling of grated Parmesan, as a nod to it’s Caesar roots. Be warned that lemon is the predominant taste in this dressing, so pucker up. (Mom and Janine, this one’s for you!) I’ve never used the anchovy paste suggested in the original recipe, and we’ve found it’s just dandy without it. In fact, I think it would make it far too salty. 

Most people know how Caesar salad got it’s name…but here’s a refresher just for kicks. It was created by Chef Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant who worked in kitchens in Mexico and the U.S. Legend has it that he came up with the concoction during a 4th of July rush when his kitchen supplies were running low, and these were the ingredients he had on hand. His original recipe didn’t use anchovies, either, so I guess I’m in good company there. Apparently, there are a variety of bottled dressings called “Cardini’s Caesar” to be found in grocery stores. But why buy it bottled when it’s so easy to make your own?

Makes about 3/4 cup dressing

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon sour cream
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1-2 cloves garlic, minced (I typically use only one clove)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon course ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk—or combine in a jar and shake vigorously—until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use, or pour over salad greens and vegetables, and toss until greens are coated.