How to Make a Really Great Salad

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How much time do you spend thinking about salad? I know, probably not too much. I think “normal” people don’t even think much about salad even while making or eating one.

We have already established that I am peculiar. And, as such, spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about salad. This is convenient for you because I can now save you a lot of salad thinking time, and impart the accumulated wisdom of years of figuring out how to make a really great salad.

First, perhaps we’d best define our term. Salad: A dish of raw leafy green vegetables, often tossed with pieces of other raw or cooked vegetables, fruit, cheese, or other ingredients and served with a dressing …This definition is pretty broad, from a dictionary called “free,” and I chose it because I like a lot of freedom when it comes to salad construction.

So, I am going to give you a rough formula for salad making, but you should keep in mind that there is a lot of flexibility and you should feel free to depart from my formula given the slightest provocation (what you have on hand, grow yourself, or find at the market).

Most of my salads start with some kind of leafy greens. I am a big fan of baby arugula and baby kale these days. I also really like romaine. I use very fresh greens, wash them well, and dry them either in a salad spinner, or by wrapping them in a towel. If I’m at the beach, I put them into a clean pillowcase and pretend to be a helicopter.

I usually dress the leaves in a big bowl. I might make a vinaigrette in a small bowl or a jar. But usually, I use the drizzle method. Vinegar goes first. I like either good aged balsamic or white balsamic. Then, a bit of agave or honey. A sprinkling of sea salt. Toss. Then a good drizzle of decent extra virgin olive oil. Sometimes I use walnut, almond, hazelnut, or macadamia nut oil. I tend to use equal amounts of vinegar and oil and maybe a quarter the amount of sweet. Toss gently. I use my hands or tongs.

Then, stuff goes on top. I almost always include some kind of fruit, cheese, and nuts.  There are many options; see individual salads below for ideas.

So, here’s the basic “recipe.”

Really Great Salad

greens, washed and dried
vinegar
oil
honey or agave
cheese
fresh or dried fruit
toasted nuts
optional: cooked or raw veggies, fresh herbs, meat, edible flowers, avocado

Dress the greens, add the toppings. Bring the salad to the table with everything nicely assembled and then toss before serving.

Here are some annotated examples to get you started:

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This is actually the same salad pictured at the top of the page. It is baby kale with steamed Japanese sweet potato, parmesan shards (I use a vegetable peeler), grape tomatoes, toasted walnuts, raisins, mint, avocado, and violets. Dressing is aged balsamic, olive oil, and agave. I drizzled a bit of balsamic glaze over the top.

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This is also baby kale. The parm here is grated. There are little date pieces, toasted walnuts, chives, and violets. Dressing is white balsamic, olive oil, and honey.

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Baby arugula, dried tart cherries, toasted pistachios, and crumbled Roquefort. White balsamic, honey, olive oil.

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Baby arugula, grated parm, toasted walnuts, tricolor raisins, and chilled quartered artichoke hearts. Aged balsamic, honey, and walnut oil.

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Baby arugula, cilantro, tricolor raisins, slivered almonds, finely grated parm, violets, white balsamic, almond oil, honey.

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Arugula, sliced steamed asparagus, sliced persian cucumber, avocado, slivered almonds, crumbled Roquefort, red raisins, chicken salad, black sesame seeds; white balsamic, almond oil, agave.

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Arugula, grilled shrimp, grilled Japanese sweet potato, grilled pineapple, avocado, parm shards, macadamia nuts; champagne vinegar, macadamia oil, honey.

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Arugula, roast turkey, sauteed broccoli rabe, steamed asparagus, avocado, provolone, tricolor raisins, pistachios, balsamic, olive oil, agave.

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Arugula Salad from DebsPotsBlog

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Surprising Kale Salad from Deb’sPotsBlog

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Watermelon Salad from Deb’sPotsBlog

I hope you now have lots of new ideas for great salads! Please leave a comment and let us know about all your adventures in salad making!

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Maple Bacon Pecan Ice Cream

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IMG_4174Oh, yes, I did! I caved to pressure from Rutabaga’s brother. Well, that’s not even true. I am a total sucker when it comes to the whims of my kids, especially food whims.

Don’t get me wrong. I can set a limit if there is a good reason. This comes up in the dr deb office all the time. I treat the parents of teenagers and they often need lots of help to learn to be clear and firm when necessary.

The truth is, if you are clear and firm with kids when they are young, there is very little need to do so when they are older. If they know you mean business when you say no, they don’t pester, they don’t whine, and they don’t suffer.

I saw no reason to say no to Brian when he suggested making bacon ice cream. I felt a little skeptical, but I also figured it’s probably not a trend for nothing. Actually, Brian equivocated, knowing he wouldn’t be home for long…and how much bacon ice cream can one person consume in a week? He consulted his father and his friends to make sure there were other interested parties.

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IMG_4170So, I modified my no churn recipe. And the results were surprising. I really, really liked it and that was unexpected. I thought it would be novel, interesting, but a little disgusting. I wouldn’t eat a whole bowl, but I can’t eat a whole bowl of any ice cream; it’s way too rich for my little hippie system. The men consumed large quantities. Both of my men are buff gym rats at the moment and I think eating bacon ice cream made them leaner. Men!

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Bacon ice cream is great with Black Sesame Loaded Oatmeal Cookies! Who knew?

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Maple Bacon Pecan Ice Cream

I used organic, uncured bacon and organic maple syrup.

3 cups heavy cream
1 can sweetened condensed milk
½ cup maple syrup
¼ cup dark corn syrup
1 tsp. salt
1 cup toasted chopped pecans
12 oz crisp bacon, chopped

Whip the cream and salt in a stand mixer or with a hand mixer until soft peaks form. Add the condensed milk, corn syrup and half the maple syrup with the machine running and continue to whip until firm-ish. Fold in the remaining ingredients by hand. Taste and add a little extra salt if you think it could use some.

Scoop the mixture into a big, lidded container and freeze for at least 8 hours before serving. Drizzle some extra maple syrup over the top because you’re already going to hell.

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Chi Bowls

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I couldn’t figure out what to call this recipe! I considered Chia Pudding, but I just can’t get past the chia pet association. And it’s just not pudding. Sorry. I don’t care how long you’ve been dairy free, vegan or paleo, but you’ve had pudding in your life and chia pudding is just not pudding. Megan suggested Smoothie Bowls, but they’re not smooth. I’m a stickler for semantics. So is she, but she wanted to get me off the phone. Berry Bowls sounded nice, but berry bowls are potter lingo for a bowl with holes; very nice, but not something you eat.

Some people call these sorts of things Energy Bowls or Power Bowls. And I like that. But it seems to me that many Energy or Power Bowls you see on other blogs or food sites have all sorts of protein powders or acai or maca. I haven’t explored these things. I’m sort of old. So, I decided those names weren’t quite right either.

Chi means “vital energy” in Chinese. I think of it as “life force.” We had a ferret named “Chi.” We’ve been thinking about her lately because of the demolition. When the guys took out the corner cabinet, they found 20 toothbrushes underneath. That was the work of a thief of a weasel named Chi. Chi Ferret was the embodiment of energy spirit. And she loved fruit. And nuts. So, this recipe is named after her.
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Here is a picture of Chi in a bowl.
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Chi Bowls

I know that peanuts are not nuts, but I am including them with nuts. If you don’t eat them, don’t use them or the peanut powder; it’ll still be great!

Makes 1 bowl

1/3 cup coconut or almond milk
2 tbs. peanut powder, like PB2 (optional)
1 tbs. honey or agave (optional)
1/3 cup seeds (chia, sesame, hemp, sunflower)
1/4 cup nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, peanuts)
1 cup fruit, in bite-size pieces
optional garnishes: coconut flakes, extra seeds and/or nuts, granola, nut butter, mint, more sweetener

Mix together the coconut or almond milk, the peanut powder, sweetener and seeds. If you have time, you can refrigerate this mixture for up to a day and it will get thicker and the chia will swell. This is nice, but not essential unless you have talked to the nutrition police and they told you to do it.

Arrange the fruit, nuts and optional garnishes on top. Take a picture and post it on Instagram and tag me: @debspots. Then mix everything together and dive in; so good, right?

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Love, Chick Pea

Oh, and don’t forget to hop on over to Deb’s Pots for other recipes!

Stuffed Spaghetti Squash

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I grew up in the sixties. We ate a meat based diet. That was just what people did. Supper was some sort of steak or chop or piece of chicken, a starch, and a vegetable. The exception was pasta, usually in the form of spaghetti and meatballs. Probably the only meatless meal we had regularly was pizza, though there might well be pepperoni or sausage on top of it.

When I went to college, the meat was horrible. Brandeis had some sort of arrangement with kosher butchers that involved a lot of gristle. It was so alarming that by my senior year, I was ready to become a vegetarian, as were my friends. I lived with five other women in an off campus apartment in a complex called “The Mods,” and we had a kitchen! We took turns cooking, but because I already loved to cook, I often agreed to take my roommate’s turns making supper. We had all gained weight eating cafeteria food for the three previous years, so our diet was low fat, low calorie and veggie. We had a lot of grape nuts and grapefruit.

Our bible that year was Molly Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook. And one of the favorites in our rotation was spaghetti squash. It was a very involved recipe that seemed to take forever to make. And, as I remember, it was pretty bland. But it was healthy and we could pretend (sort of) that we were eating pasta, so we had it often. And I was proud of my newfound veggie cooking skills. It went along with the general hippie persona. You know, Brandeis sociology, meditation, yoga, Indian skirts, Birkenstocks, weed…

When I came home for winter break, I offered to cook supper for the family. I decided to make my famous spaghetti squash, spent all day shopping and cooking. Everyone assembled and took a taste. And my mother said, “Where’s the meat?” I said, “this is what we have for supper all the time up at school.” She said, “that’s nice. Where’s the meat?”

I hadn’t made spaghetti squash for many years, but recently, Brian went on a low carb diet. So we tried a few different preparations. He really loved them all. But this one was the winner. Brian is a carnivore; he would have done great in the sixties. So the version I made for him had some ground turkey in it. But even if it hadn’t, I don’t think he would have said, “where’s the meat?” This recipe is wonderful with or without meat!

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Stuffed spaghetti squash

This is great with or without meat.

Fresh, artisan mozzarella is wonderful stuff, but don’t use it here. It’s got too much moisture. Use the rubbery stuff that comes shrink wrapped in a brick. The best way to shred it is to put it in the freezer for 15 minutes or so and then use a box grater, large holes. Do use good, imported, well aged parmigiano reggiano

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Serves 6

3 medium spaghetti squash
½ cup ricotta cheese, whole milk or part skim
1 cup shredded mozzarella
½ cup grated parm
Tomato sauce, with or without meat (recipe below)
Cooking oil spray
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350°. Cut the squash in half lengthwise. The best way to do this is with a big knife and a rubber mallet. Be careful! Scoop out all the seeds and stringy stuff. You wany a sharp spoon or tool; I use an ice cream scoop. A melon baller or grapfruit spoon are good options. Put the innards in compost and in the spring little spaghetti squash plants will grow. Sprinkle the cut surfaces and cavities with salt and pepper. Like a baking sheet with parchment and spray with cooking oil. Lay the squash cut side down on the parchment and bake for about 25 minutes, until the squash begin to soften. Turn the oven up to 400°

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Turn the squash halves over and let them cool for a few minutes. Or you may do this ahead and let them cool completely and refrigerate for a day or so if you want. Use a fork to scoop out the flesh and put all of it in a big bowl.  As you are scooping, remember you are going to use the shells, so leave a bit of squash there so they don’t collapse.

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Season the strandy squash flesh with salt and pepper and mix in the ricotta. The best way to do this is with your hands. It is very important to taste this mixture and make sure it is properly seasoned before you go any further with the recipe. It should taste nice and creamy and like you really want to eat the whole bowl now but you won’t because you are having it for supper.

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Now divide this tasty mixture between the shells. Take about a cup of the sauce and reserve it for serving. Divide the rest and top the squash mixture with the sauce. Now top with the mozz. And then, finally, the parm.

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Bake the stuffed squashes for 40 minutes or so, until the cheese is bubbly and beginning to brown and the filling is piping hot.

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Let them stand for a few minutes before serving. Warm up the reserved cup of sauce so everyone can have a little extra on top. A nice green salad is a perfect accompaniment. Ideally something with a little citrus and some nuts.

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 Meat Optional Tomato Sauce

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 ½ medium onion, fine dice
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lb. ground meat (optional), you can use turkey, chicken, pork, beef, lamb or a combo
pinch hot red pepper flakes
1 tbs. olive oil
¼ cup decent red wine
1 can crushed tomatoes (I like Muir Glen)

Saute’ the onion in the olive oil in a medium saucepan until soft. If you are using the meat, add it at the same time as the garlic and brown the meat and garlic together. Add the wine as soon as the meat is brown and scrape up the brown bits in the pan. If you are not meating, add the garlic and cook for just a few seconds and then add the wine. Then add the tomatoes. Let the sauce cook for a half hour or so.

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with love from chick pea

Hot Fudge Pudding Cake

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It is true, I really am “that little hippie girl.” When I was pregnant with Megan (and that was when she became “Rutabaga”), my mother made me these flowy maternity dresses. And though I was 31 when she was born (24 years ago, let’s not go there), it was said that I looked like “a teenager who got into trouble.” A pregnant hippie teenager with Birkenstocks.

The kids’ births were all natural and midwife attended; I caught the babies myself.  So, as you would expect, Megan ate only mama’s milk until she was 5 months old. And then only organic foods made (and in the case of the applesauce, picked) by me. Introduced carefully, one at a time, because I was a hippie mama with a staggeringly neurotic pediatrician.

When my firstborn was about 7 months old, we went away to a wedding and she stayed overnight with Grandma and Poppop. It happened that my folks were having a birthday party for a friend who had been my doctor when I was a child. At that point, Meg was up to 4 foods: organic applesauce, organic bananas, organic rice cereal and organic oat cereal. And breast milk. Pumped, frozen, and thawed for the occasion.

In the evening, the nervous new parents called from the road to check on the baby. Here was Grandma’s report: “She’s fine, happy as can be. She’s sitting in her high chair eating lasagna.” I almost had a heart attack. I imagined the baby’s pediatrician having a heart attack. Wheat, eggs, cheese, meat, tomatoes…what if my daughter was allergic to one of those “classic trigger foods”? What if she went into anaphylactic shock? I think I downplayed my horror, but my mother knows me. She said, “Oh Deborah, don’t worry. We have 5 pediatricians, 2 orthopedic surgeons, 2 internists and a cardiologist if she runs into any trouble. How could I argue?

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So after that, I gratefully relaxed my choke hold on food restrictions and life became a lot more fun. If we were eating something interesting, Meg was now allowed to gum a piece into submission. She started to develop the sophisticated palate she was meant to have, though it took a long time for her to get any teeth! But I drew the line at sweets. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth myself, and I really wanted to delay my kid getting a sugar fix for as long as possible.

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As long as possible turned out to be her first birthday. Grandma called ahead and asked if she could bring Pete Levin’s famous chocolate chip cookie “mousse” to the party. This is a sort of ice box confection consisting of packaged cookies, chocolate syrup, chocolate chips, whipped cream, and more chocolate chips. I haven’t had it since, but my recollection is that it is a form of chocolaty, creamy crack. And no, I am not giving you the recipe here, I have something better, but I will supply the recipe if you contact me. I do remember it. Perfectly.

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So my mother made a big bowl of this “mousse” for the guests and a small one for the birthday girl. The baby was situated in her high chair with a towel around her neck, and the bowl was placed in front of her. She looked at it. Dipped in a finger and took a lick. And then went in with both hands. After the first big mouthful, she gave me the strangest look. It was a sort of glare. I knew exactly what it meant. “Why the hell haven’t you told me about this before now?!”

And since then, my daughter has been the chocoholic of the family. When she comes home, she invariably asks for something dark and gooey. Nigella Lawson’s chocolate loaf is a favorite, as is Ina Garten’s brownie pie. The chocolate sheet cake from Cook’s Illustrated is always welcome, as are any number of their other chocolate cakes.

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When Meg was home for Thanksgiving, I shared with her my new favorite blog, Vanilla and Bean. And we also looked at blogger, Traci’s Vanilla and Bean Instagram feed. She saw the gorgeous post for dark chocolate caramel brownies and practically swooned. So Friday, we began to have the “what should we make for dessert?” conversation. We settled on Hot Fudge Pudding Cake because it is gooeyer than brownies, and goes better with whipped cream.

This is a fun recipe, modified slightly from the Cook’s Illustrated version. It is a sort of fudgy, extremely moist cake with its own sauce. Kind of a cross between a pudding and a cake. You can make it more or less intense and dark depending on your choice of cocoa and chocolate chips.

 

 Hot Fudge Pudding Cake

1 1/2 cups boiling water
2/3 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder (2 1/2 ounces)
1/3 cup brown sugar (packed, 1 3/4 ounces)
cup granulated sugar (7 ounces)
tablespoons unsalted butter
ounces semisweet chocolate or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour(3 3/4 ounces)
teaspoons baking powder
tablespoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup whole or 2% milk
1/4 teaspoon table salt
large egg yolk

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INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly spray 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Stir together 1/3 cup cocoa, brown sugar, and 1/3 cup granulated sugar in small bowl, breaking up large clumps with fingers; set aside. Melt butter, remaining 1/3 cup cocoa, and chocolate in small bowl set over saucepan of barely simmering water; whisk until smooth and set aside to cool slightly. Whisk flour and baking powder in small bowl to combine; set aside. Whisk remaining 2/3 cup sugar, vanilla, milk, and salt in medium bowl until combined; whisk in yolk. Add chocolate mixture and whisk to combine. Add flour mixture and whisk until batter is evenly moistened.
  2. Pour batter into prepared baking dish and spread evenly to sides and corners. Sprinkle cocoa/sugar mixture evenly over batter (cocoa mixture should cover entire surface of batter); water gently over cocoa mixture. Bake until cake is puffed and bubbling and just beginning to pull away from sides of baking dish, about 45 minutes. (Do not overbake.) Cool cake in dish on wire rack about 25 minutes before serving.

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Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream or ice cream.

~Chickpea