Simple Blackberry Vinaigrette

Blackberry vinaigretteFor dinner, we’ll often do a big salad–especially now that spring is finally here.

 

But salads can be boring. And kids know it.

 

So I like to play with the lettuce, toppings, and dressing to keep my kids asking, Can we have salad for dinner?

 

Berries–dried or fresh–are a great way to enliven a salad and add a burst of sweetness. I also like to add them into the dressing.

 

You can make your own vinaigrette from scratch by using equal parts vinegar (or fresh lemon juice) and olive oil along with seasonings such as dried herbs but I usually don’t have time on a weeknight meal to do all that. Instead, I start with a good quality store-bought vinaigrette as a base and then pump up the flavor.

 

Here’s how to make your own blackberry vinaigrette–this is the perfect starter salad dressing recipe for kids who like to help in the kitchen and are old enough to be trusted with the blender.

 

Recipe

Yield: About 1 1/3 cups dressing

 

Ingredients

1 cup oil-based salad dressing (I like Matsos Greek Dressing or Ken’s Lite Northern Italian Dressing)

1/3 cup blackberries (or any other kind of berry, fresh or frozen)

2 tsp. fresh lemon juice (opt.)

1/2 tbsp. fresh parsley or other fresh herb you have on hand–basil would be fabulous (opt.)

1/4 tsp. ground cayenne

 

Directions

  1. Place all the ingredients in a blender and puree. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  2. Drizzle on your salad.

 

Salad Suggestions

Romaine lettuce or green leaf, topped with grated carrots, pumpkin seeds, cubed cheese like Gouda, thin sliced onion, rotisserie or grilled chicken

 

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Lettuce Tacos

Lettuce tacosWhen I first approached my kids about having lettuce wraps for dinner I was greeted to a collective yawn. Not so when I mentioned we’d be having lettuce tacos. Sometimes, getting your kids to eat more greens is all in the phrasing.

 

You can fill your lettuce tacos with whatever fillings you usually use on taco night – or go for something different. We decided on a Thai-themed version.

 

Thai Taco Recipe

Ingredients

! head Boston or Romaine lettuce*

1 1/2 lbs. chicken breasts, chopped into small pieces

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/2 tsp. cumin

1/4 tsp. ginger

1/4 tsp. white pepper

Dash of cayenne pepper (opt.)

Salt to taste (I prefer sea salt on this one)

1/2 lime

 

Lettuce taco assembly

Thai slaw (opt.)

1 1/2 cups shredded Napa cabbage

1/2 cup shredded carrots

1 1/2 tbsps. Greek or Italian vinaigrette salad dressing (I use Matsos)

2 tbsps. mayo

1/2 lime

Salt and pepper to taste

(Toss together)

 

Optional ingredients

 

Directions

  1. Wash and clean the lettuce pieces – try to keep them as large as possible.
  2. Meanwhile, add the oil to a large saute pan and bring to medium-high heat. Add the chicken to the hot pan and saute until no longer pink. Stir in the garlic and seasonings. Finish cooking through (about 5-7 minutes total, depending on how small you diced the chicken pieces). Remove from pan; squeeze the chicken with the juice from the fresh lime.
  3. Lay out your DIY tacos with filling ingredients – lettuce pieces, chicken, red peppers, golden raisins, slaw, Sriracha and let your kiddos serve themselves.

 

*Use Boston lettuce leaves (for softer tacos) or Romaine lettuce (for a stiffer taco)

Lettuce tacos with sriracha

 

 

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Homemade Thin Mints

Stack of thin mints

My husband has asked me never to make these cookies again. Ever. They’re just too addictive. It’s impossible to eat just one and so we’ve been chowing down these homemade Girl Scout Thin Mints.

Thin mints with a bite

See, I had to make Thin Mints. We didn’t have any Girl Scouts come by and so I was left to come up with my own version. I used my favorite Chocolate Butter Cookie recipe as the base and added in peppermint extract. Now for the dipping! Looking through recipes online I saw plenty that relied on candy melts for the final dip. That’s a no-no. Candy melts have their place – a quick, fun addition to a dessert that you want to fancify, for instance. But you can’t rely on them. I like to mix them into semi-sweet chocolate chips to help it set, usually a 2:1 ratio. The better the chocolate wafers the better your cookies. I highly recommend Ghirardelli melting wafers.

Thin mints

 

Recipe

*Adapted from King Arthur Flour’s Baking Companion Cookbook

Yield: 4-5 dozen cookies (depends on thickness)

Prep time: Not gonna lie, it takes awhile to put these together – but it’s worth the effort

 

Ingredients

Cookies

1 1/2 cups flour

3/4 cocoa (*see note below)

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 butter at room temperature (not margarine)

1/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon black onyx powder (opt.)

1 egg

1 tablespoon water

1/2 tablespoon honey or agave

1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

Dipping thin mints

Dipping Chocolate

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 cup dark chocolate melting wafers

1/2 teaspoon black onyx powder (opt.)

1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

2 tablespoons shortening or coconut oil

Dipped thin mints

Cookie Directions

  1. Cream the butter and sugars together. Add the egg, water, honey and extract to the butter mixture. Blend well.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.
  3. Gently mix the dry ingredients gently into the batter just until incorporated. Place dough on waxed paper, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or until solid.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line your cookie pans with parchment paper.
  5. Working with 1/3 of the dough at a time and leaving the rest refrigerated, roll out the dough, using flour and a rolling pin, to 1/4″ thick. The object here is to keep the cookies AS COLD AS POSSIBLE so they don’t melt much when you cook them.
  6. Use a circular cookie cutter, the open end of a glass, or my favorite – a Linzer cookie cutter – to cut out the cookie shapes.
  7. Bake the cookies for 9-11 minutes and then check on them. Let the cookies cool on the pan.

 

Dipping Directions

  1. Melt all of the chocolate dipping ingredients in a glass bowl in the microwave.
  2. Place the cookies into the dipping chocolate one at a time and smooth the top with a spoon. Move onto the waxed paper to set; I like to put the waxed paper on a cookie sheet and then into the refrigerator.
  3. If you want your cookies to have that perfect-Thin Mint edge try this tip from my neighbor who has her own candy-making business, Celestial Sweets. Once the chocolate coating is set use your vegetable peeler to trim the excess chocolate off the edges.

 

*Note: to get the dark color try using Hershey’s special dark cocoa at the grocers or order dark cocoa powder from King Arthur Flour.

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Energy Salad

Last week I bought what was deemed an energy salad from Trader Joe’s — I needed it. I had about 10 minutes to eat something that had to fit as both lunch and dinner during a crazy day. The salad was so good I’ve been making it all week for lunch. Aptly named. The mix of spinach with crunchies like beans, dried fruit, and seeds fill you up and taste so good.

Energy Salad pic

 

Recipe

Serving: One, big, yummy salad

 

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups baby spinach

1/8 cup pumpkin seeds

1/8 cup chickpeas (canned, drained)

1/8 cup edamame

1/8 cup dried cranberries

1/8 cup shredded carrots

1 1/2 tablespoons ginger miso dressing

Energy Salad Ingredients

Directions

  1. Place baby spinach in the bottom of your salad bowl.
  2. Add remaining ingredients.
  3. Enjoy!

A few notes:

  • I used shelled edamame seeds that came in a microwave steam bag.
  • I bought miso ginger dressing, but you can make your own simple dressing by mixing equal parts olive oil and vinegar and add a little fresh lemon juice, then dried or fresh herbs.
  • The leftover ingredients I stashed in the fridge and then added them to other meals for my kiddos – so far the edamame has been a hit.
You can make salads ahead of time and put them in dishes for quick lunches all week long.

You can make salads ahead of time and put them in dishes for quick lunches all week.

 

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Easy Mediterranean Chicken Soup

Mediterrean soup

5 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s the temperature outside–but with the windchill it feels more like -6. Chicken noodle soup time. I’m getting tired of the regular chicken soup as the temperatures continue to slide. To capture a little bit of summer in a bowl, while warming myself up I’ve been making this Mediterranean version.

 

Recipe

 

Ingredients

4 cups chicken broth

2 cups cooked, chopped chicken (hello, leftovers!)

3 carrots, diced

2 celery stalks, diced

1 medium onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. pepper

1/2 tsp. paprika (smoked, preferred)

1 10-oz. box Israeli couscous

1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and diced

1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 lemon

 

Directions

  1. Prepare the couscous according to package directions. You can use the smaller, more widely available Moroccan couscous but I prefer the larger, Israeli variety.
  2. Place the 2 tbsp. of olive oil in the bottom of a soup pot to coat. Saute the onions and garlic over medium-high heat until fragrant and the onions translucent.
  3. Add in the carrots and celery and saute for 2 more minutes.
  4. Stir in the chicken and saute 2 more minutes.
  5. Pour the chicken broth into the pot and bring the mixture just to a simmer for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
  6. Mix in couscous, parsley, olives, and seasonings.
  7. Serve each soup bowl topped with feta cheese and fresh squeezed lemon juice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Directions

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Easy No-Cook Noodle Lasagna

Lasagna Kit box

We’ve been hovering around freezing temps here in the Midwest so I’ve been on the hunt for recipes that heat up my house–and my tummy. Red Gold sent me a Lasagna Kit so that I can try out their version of this comfort food staple. I’m already a fan of Red Gold tomatoes–they’re grown here in the region in Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana, and they hold that just-picked flavor of tomatoes even when there’s a foot of snow outside.

 

I tweaked Red Gold’s Easy Classic Lasagna recipe to make my own version–I usually add an egg to the ricotta cheese to thin it out when I’m putting it into the uncooked lasagna and it helps hold the cheese in place once the dish is cooked. I can’t help but add a little heat to my lasagna, too–if you’re not a spice girl, feel free to leave off the extra kick of cayenne pepper.

 

To find more recipe ideas you can check out Red Gold’s other lasagna varieties. I have the Eggplant Florentine on my list to try soon since Mr. Squid loves eggplant.

Lasagna

Recipe

 

Ingredients

1/2 cup water

1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes

2 14.5-oz. cans diced tomatoes with Italian seasoning

1-2 cloves garlic, diced

1 pound cooked Italian sausage

1 16-oz. box lasagna noodles

1 15-oz. carton ricotta

1 egg

1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning (I used 1 tbsp. fresh, chopped basil)

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (opt.)

3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

 

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degree Fahrenheit. Use a handheld immersion blender to mix together the tomatoes, garlic, and water in a large bowl (or you can place these in a blender). In another bowl, whisk together the egg with the ricotta cheese and the Italian seasoning along with the cayenne pepper, if using. Now it’s time to assemble your lasagna!
  2. Generously coat a 9×13″ baking pan with baking spray. Spread 1 1/2 cups sauce on the bottom of the pan. Arrange 1/3 of the uncooked noodles over the sauce. It’s fine to overlap a little.
  3. Next, smear 1/2 of the ricotta mixture over the noodles (they’ll wiggle around a little, just put them back in place). Top with 1/2 of the sausage, sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella cheese.
  4. Drizzle 1 cup tomato sauce over the cheese then top with another layer of pasta noodles.
  5. Repeat the steps above: ricotta, sausage, cheese, sauce, noodles.
  6. Pour the remaining sauce on the final layer of noodles then sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella cheese and the Parmesan.
  7. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour; remove foil and cook for another 1/2 hour or until the top is golden. Let the lasagna stand for 10-15 minutes before you cut into it.

Your turn: What’s your favorite tweak to classic lasagna?

 

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Why aren’t you eating…julienne cut sun dried tomatoes

Sundried tomatoesSun dried tomatoes packed in oil are a regular addition to a variety of dishes at my house–from pasta sauces to enchilada sauce. I usually mix in the sun dried tomatoes with my hand stick blender so you never know they’re in there except for a deep, rich flavor.

 

But sun dried tomatoes on their own? I hadn’t tried that before. Then I had  a sprinkling of julienne cut sun dried tomatoes over my dish at La’Albatross, a fabulous restaurant in downtown Cleveland. French. They’re the only place in the city with their own fromagier, aka a cheese monger. (I know, I had to ask what a fromagier was, too.)

 

Since then I’ve been topping salads, pasta dishes, roasted vegetables, and more with julienne cut sun dried tomatoes. I’m hooked on Mariani Sun Dried Tomatoes. I find them in the produce section of the grocery store–chances are you can, too.

 

Lately, I’ve only been able to find the flavored varieties–basil and hot pepper I prefer them plain so I can play up the flavor however I like.

 

Packaged sundried tomatoes

 

 

 

 

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Easy Baked Alaska

Slice of Baked AlaskaLayered with two kinds of ice cream and topped with an impossibly golden meringue topping, Baked Alaska is an impressive dessert to serve to your family (invite guests for this one!). Here’s the secret: it’s really easy to make. The key? Be patient and have lots of freezer space. Lots.

So keep it cool for Valentine’s Day with this dessert.

Keep it fun: Around our house we have a bit of a competition when it comes to eating our slices of Baked Alaska. We serve them upright–no sideways slices. You try to see how small you can get your piece before it falls over.

 

Eating Baked AlaskaRecipe

Ingredients

Cake

1 store-bought graham cracker pie crust

2 containers ice cream (1.5 quarts or half gallons; I like a layer of chocolate and some kind of vanilla/caramel combo)

Meringue

8 eggs

1/8 tsp. cream of tartar

2 Tbsp. powdered sugar

1 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. pink food coloring (optional)

Chocolate sauce

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/3 cup heavy cream

Baked Alaska in the freezer

Directions

  1. Soften one container ice cream until just spreadable. Scoop onto the graham cracker pie shell trying to keep it in a dome shape. Freeze until hard. (Now’s the time to leave out the other ice cream container to soften.)
  2. Top the first layer of ice cream with the second just softened ice cream, keeping the dome shape. Freeze until hard.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, separate the eggs adding the whites into the bowl and discarding the yolks. With a blender whip the egg whites until they become frothy.
  4. Add the cream of tartar, food coloring, and powdered sugar into the egg whites, then gradually add in the sugar and continue to beat until stiff. (The mixture should form peaks when you dip a spoon into it and then pull it out.)
  5. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F and get everything ready. Clear out the freezer since you’re going to need to put your Baked Alaska inside in a hurry.
  6. Take the ice cream base out of the freezer and place it on a baking sheet. Quickly put the meringue all over the ice cream trying to cover it completely to the graham crackers edges. Have fun with it–create swirl shapes and peaks.
  7. Put the cake into the oven for 3 minutes. Watch carefully and remove as soon the the meringue peaks begin to cook.
  8. Stash in the freezer right away.
  9. Freeze overnight before serving.
  10. Make the sauce by melting together the chips and the heavy cream in a glass dish in the microwave. Allow to cool.
  11. Let the Baked Alaska sit out the freezer for 10 minutes before cutting. Run the knife under hot water before trying to cut each piece.

Making a Baked Alaska

 

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Fancify Friday: Easy Chocolate Almond Footballs

Chocolate almond footballs

Admission: I’m a Broncos fan and fully expect them to win the Super Bowl this Sunday (even though Peyton Manning has a 0-4 playoff game record when it comes to temps under 40 degrees).

 

These easy chocolate almond footballs are a fun way to dress up your Super Bowl party table or top game-day cupcakes.

 

Here’s how to make them.

  1. Melt a few wafers of white almond bark in the microwave.
  2. Use a toothpick to draw the threads on chocolate almonds (tasty football stand-ins).
  3. Place the almonds on waxed paper to set. That’s it!

 

Football cupcake

 

 

 

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Why aren’t you eating Mahi-Mahi?

Mahi-mahi bag pic

I’ve found when I prepare tilapia my kids are hungry again about an hour after dinner–they’re tasty, but not particularly hearty. Our new favorite fish is mahi-mahi. The meaty fish is mild, flaky and filling. I buy mine frozen in individually wrapped packets in a three-pound bag from Costco for around $20.

 

Here’s a simple way to prepare mahi-mahi:

  1. Thaw the individual fish pieces.
  2. Pat the fish dry before sauting.
  3. Generously sprinkle the fish with salt, pepper, paprika, and rosemary.
  4. Add 1/2 tbsp. olive oil to a heavy-bottomed skillet and bring to medium-high heat. Don’t move the fish! Let them keep cooking until you see the fish begin to change color on the edges and just up the sides–about 3 minutes.
  5. Time for flipping! Turn the fish over and reduce the heat to medium and cook about 3 more minutes.

To serve: Mahi-mahi loves sweetness. I made a simple topping of chopped tomatoes, onions, lemon juice, fresh chopped cilantro and basil and a few other things I had on hand. If you have mangoes, toss those in, too. I drizzled the fish with a balsamic glaze. Pair with rice, pasta, or salad.

sauteed mahi mahi pic

 

 

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