Category: Salad (page 1 of 2)

Do You Ever Just Want To Eat Pasta Salad? My Favorite Version.

Do you ever just want to eat pasta salad? I’m having a lot of deep questions this week:

  • Do you ever just want to drink Lambrusco? You know, the good stuff, like they serve at Olive Garden.
  • Do you ever just want to buy those frozen potato disc puffs shaped like happy faces?
  • Do you ever just want to wear something Bedazzled?
  • Do you ever just want to eat a corn dog?

I didn’t end up caving for Lambrusco, potato happy faces, Bedazzled clothing or a corn dog, but I did make pasta salad.

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Remaking An Iowan Country Club Salad: Milleresque Salad

Country clubs are interesting.

I worked at a country club very briefly before settling into my role at the auctioneering college in Mason City, Iowa. This was actually the first time I ever stepped foot in a country club. Growing up, my folks lived very frugally even though they could have afforded more splurges. They didn’t golf, dine out often, and were wary of arrangements involving automated membership fees. Therefore, country clubs really weren’t of interest to them.

I’ve always been fascinated with country clubs, as well as other grown-up clubs like sororities and fraternities and the Free Masons. It’s not that I’ve wanted to join them, per se, but just wanted to observe as a curious outsider.

Anyway, at this particular club, the dining services were primarily open to members or catered events like fundraisers or weddings (some special events are open to the public). It was a shame because the food was really quite good. People went nuts over the Miller Salad. It contained romaine, croutons, parmesan cheese, rotini pasta, and peppercorn ranch dressing.

The last week of the month was particularly busy when members had to meet their required minimum food purchases. We received a lot of take-out orders and requests for Miller Salads like always. I never did find out how they made the dressing, so here’s my take on the Mason City Country Club’s Miller Salad.

Milleresque Salad
Cook’s Notes: I’m going to do the Molly Yeh thing and give peppercorn ranch dressing clues instead of exact instructions. Making ranch is really a mix and taste process. It won’t taste exactly like the Hidden Valley ranch packets, but will create a creamy, onion and garlicky dressing. Packet ranch can still be good ranch. For additional homemade ranch inspiration, check out the Pioneer Woman & Once Upon a Chef.

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Ingredients:
Romaine lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
Croutons (my homemade method)
Parmesan cheese
Cooked rotini pasta

Peppercorn Ranch Dressing Ingredients:
Mayo
Sour cream
Buttermilk
Apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
Cracked black pepper. A lot.
Finely sliced green onion or chives, or both!
Chopped parsley
Dill
Garlic powder or fresh grated garlic
Salt
Sugar
Optional: Cayenne

Instructions:

  1. Plop equal parts mayo and sour cream into a bowl. Whisk in buttermilk until you like its consistency.
  2. Stir in a splash or two of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. The acidity will balance out the creaminess.
  3. Throw in thinly sliced scallion or chives or both for a gentle onion flavor.
  4. Add chopped parsley and dill.
  5. Season with garlic powder or freshly grated garlic for a greater zing, salt, and a little bit of sugar.
  6. Adjust ingredients until you like the flavor (i.e. add more mayo for body, vinegar for tang, garlic for bite, etc.). It will also taste better after it mingles in the fridge for a while.

To Assemble The Salad: 

  • Throw romaine lettuce, pasta, croutons, and parmesan cheese in a bowl. Toss with the peppercorn ranch and serve. I like to season the lettuce with an extra sprinkle of salt and pepper and throw in sliced red onion, too.

Rediscovering Pasta Salad

When I lived in Fargo, I worked at Josie’s Corner Cafe, a locally owned bakery and cafe that offers a lovely pasta salad each day.

I never gave much thought or consideration to pasta salad, until then. One lunch break, I tried one bite of a Southwestern-themed salad laced with black beans and was hooked. Many of my favorite pasta salads are bound together with creamy mayonnaise or salad dressing. I don’t mind indulging in them on occasion, but wanted to make a lighter version at home.

I kept Josie’s Southwestern theme and loaded the salad with fresh vegetables and black beans. However, I did coat the ingredients with a thin layer of mayonnaise (regular Hellman’s for me), lightened with a spritz of lemon juice. For a healthier version, you could try substituting thick Greek yogurt or combine it with your favorite mayo. Fresh herbs would also make a lovely addition.

This salad held up well during a busy workweek the vegetables retained their crisp four days later. We were happy to have an easy snack or light meal to grab on the run.

Confetti Pasta Salad

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Ingredients:
Small pasta shells, or other small pasta variety
Fresh bell peppers, diced
Celery, diced
Red onion, diced
Green onion, thinly sliced
Black beans, or whatever’s in your pantry
Mayonnaise, just enough to hold the salad together
Lemon juice, to taste
Salt (I prefer flaky sea salt). You could also use your favorite seasoned salt.
Black pepper
Pinch of sugar
Shredded cheese

 Instructions:

  1. Cook pasta until al dente in boiling water seasoned with salt and a little olive oil.
  2. Drain pasta and rinse with cold water. Set aside to continue to drain, shaking off the extra water a few times.
  3. Chop bell peppers, onions, green onion. I like adding a lot.
  4. Drain a can of your favorite beans and rinse (or cook your own).
  5. Combine the pasta with the chopped vegetables and as many beans as you’d like. I tipped the balance of the pasta salad in favor of the vegetables and beans.
  6. Add just enough mayonnaise to hold the salad together.
  7. Spritz with lemon juice and season with salt, lots of black pepper, and a pinch of sugar to balance the salty and sour.
  8. Toss in a scattering of shredded cheese.

A Recipe: Cafe Latte-Inspired Lentil & Shrimp Salad

The dishes whose leftovers never last long in our fridge; these are the recipes that I post.

Twin Cities people will know what’s up when I mention Cafe Latte salads. On special occasions, my folks would take us to dine-in at Cafe Latte. On very special occasions, we’d purchase a German Chocolate Cake. I felt very special moving through the cafeteria line and choosing anything I wanted. It was (and still is) difficult to decide which combination of soup, salad or sandwich I wanted.

Since Cafe Latte offers so many choices in each category, I usually choose a salad sampler that allows me to try three different varieties. Cafe Latte always offers a hearty salad that includes a grain + smoked salmon or shrimp. Of course, the salad with seafood always lands on my plate.

We craved a substantial and healthy salad and so I felt inspired to rework an old recipe for lentil and crab salad tossed in a homemade vinaigrette. Back in 2004 I had originally shared the recipe in Simple, Good & Tasty as part of a series about joining a CSA. This time around, I swapped a few ingredients with equal success.

This salad was the perfect dish to propel us through the second half of a busy week. On busy days, I often have to force myself to pause for lunch, and reach for takeout or a snack without enough protein. This salad is flavorful, filling, and protein-heavy enough to call our names.

Cafe Latte-Inspired Lentil & Shrimp Salad

Cook’s Notes: Add whatever vegetables you enjoy. I simply added some of our favorites. This week I was crunched for time, so I used pre-cooked lentils in a pouch that I found at Target and Melissa brand pre-cooked and chilled beets. You can always cook these yourself. There’s really no “right” way to make this salad. Surimi is an affordable substitute for cooked shrimp. As a word of warning, some brands of surimi are better than others. I’ve found certain grocery store’s house brands to taste pasty and fishy. When I make homemade vinaigrette, I eyeball the ingredients, whisking in oil to the spices and vinegar component until I like the flavor. Chill leftover vinaigrette for future salad or veggie dip. I tossed mine into coleslaw mix to serve with ribs. *Makes 4-6 servings.

lentil shrimp lemon vinaigrette salad

Ingredients:
8 oz. cooked lentils (If you cook your own, you don’t need to pre-soak them and they cook relatively quickly)
2-3 small cooked beets, diced (I bought a pouch of Melissa brand pre-cooked beets, too).
2 handfuls green beans, blanched and cut into bite-sized pieces.
Cucumber (about half), sliced into half moons
Finely diced onion
Small cooked shrimp or surimi/fake crab. I like to add a lot (1.5-2 cups)
Cilantro, chopped (or parsley)

Lemon Vinaigrette:
Dijon mustard (2 good dollops)
Juice of two lemons
Garlic powder
Honey
Salt
Black Pepper
Oil (I use olive oil, or a combination of whatever I have on hand).

Instructions:

  • To begin preparing the lemon vinaigrette: In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the juice of two lemons, a dash of garlic powder, about the same amount of honey as mustard (two squirts of each), a pinch of salt, and a pinch of black pepper.
  • While quickly whisking, slowly stream in oil. If you stream in the oil slowly enough while whisking, the oil will mix well with the lemon juice and the dressing will stay emulsified. It’s worth the extra effort.
  • The dressing will thicken as you incorporate the oil. Pause every so often and taste the dressing as you go. If the dressing is too tart, whisk in some more oil and/or add more honey. You can always add more spices, too.
  • To prepare the salad, combine the cooked lentils, cooked diced beets, blanched green beans, sliced cucumber, a little bit of chopped onion, seafood, and a handful of chopped cilantro. Toss with lemon vinaigrette.
  • Before serving, taste the salad for seasoning, adding more salt, pepper, and lemon juice as needed. Serve warm or chilled. It’ll taste even better the next day.

Reader Request: How to Make Chicken Salad

A while ago a reader asked me to write about how to make a fantastic chicken salad. I just made a batch and it was so delicious that I wanted to share my recipe and seek your suggestions.

When I’m at work, I love visiting Taste by Unc’s Cheesecake, the cafe and bakery behind the alley from our office. They have the best lunch specials and one of my favorites is their Contessa turkey salad panini. The turkey looks and tastes like it was cooked in-house, meaning it’s not chopped-up lunchmeat. The salad is creamy but not overdressed and cranberry sauce adds a pleasant sweetness. This Contessa turkey salad was on my mind as I prepared my chicken salad.

As far as your chicken salad goes, you can use dark or light meat chicken and cook it however you’d like. If you are really crunched for time, buy a rotisserie chicken. I prefer dark meat, so I cooked two bone-in, skin-on thighs in simmering water seasoned with black pepper, parsley stems, lemon slices and onion. I simmered the chicken until it was cooked through and the juices ran clear. This took about 20-minutes. If I had a whole chicken, I would use the same method to keep the meat moist.

Serve the salad on sandwiches or on a bed of fresh salad greens with your favorite chopped vegetables. These are the typical elements I add to chicken or tuna salads:

  • Something crunchy: Add nearly any vegetable available in your kitchen. I’ve used diced bell pepper, celery, radish, carrot, pea pods and blanched green beans. You could also add chopped nuts or sunflower seeds.
  • A little something sweet: I like adding a handful of currants or craisins to my salad. You could also use fresh fruit like halved grapes or apple. Toss them in at the last minute so they don’t get mushy or make the salad too liquidy.
  • Spices: I add black pepper, salt, garlic powder and white pepper. Sometimes I’m in the mood for curry powder.
  • Onion: A little onion adds savoriness to the salad. You don’t want to get carried away, though. For a mild onion flavor, try adding some grated onion with the juices, thinly sliced green onion, or chives for the mildest flavor
  • Herbs: Use what you have. Tarragon, parsley, and chives would be great additions. If the herb is more fragrant like rosemary or thyme, add more sparingly.
  • Tartness: A tart element like a spritz of fresh lemon juice, drizzle of vinegar, and/or a squirt of mustard will balance the creamy salad and add more complexity.
  • Creamy: I like creamy chicken salad that’s dressed enough to hold the ingredients together. I really like the combination of mayonnaise and greek yogurt.

My Chicken Salad for Two

DSC_0074

Ingredients:
2 chicken thighs
3 slices of lemon
1/2 onion cut into a few pieces
Black pepper
Handful of parsley stems
Salt

2 small radishes, finely diced
2 green onions, thinly sliced
Dried currants, a handful
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Mayonnaise, a couple dollops
Greek yogurt, a couple dollops
Fresh lemon juice, a spritz
Salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
Garlic powder, to taste
White pepper, a dash

Instructions

  1. Fill the pot with enough water to cover the chicken and bring to a simmer. Add lemon, parsley, onion and black pepper. Simmer until the chicken is cooked through, tender, and its juices run clear. This should take about 20-minutes.
  2. Allow the chicken to cool. Remove the skin and pull the meat from the bones. Cut into bite-sized pieces.
  3. Add diced radish, onion, and currants.
  4. Add mustard and just enough mayonnaise and yogurt to hold the chicken salad together.
  5. Season with a spritz of lemon juice, salt, pepper, garlic powder and white pepper to taste.
  6. Serve on a sandwich or on a bed of fresh salad greens. I added sliced cucumber and halved cherry tomato halves.

How do you make your favorite chicken salad? Thanks to everyone who shared their tips on my Facebook and Twitter accounts. 

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