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Category Archives: Salads

Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette: One Simple Dressing, Two Amazing Salads (and a GIVEAWAY WINNER!)

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It was back in one of my undergraduate teacher education classes, that I was first introduced to the debate over nature vs. nurture. How much of our personality, strengths, challenges, and interests are a product of our individual biological makeups and how much is due to the environment in which we’re raised and the life events we experience?

From an educator’s point of view, I want very much to believe that nurture plays a more important role, because that idea acknowledges every child’s potential for success and a teacher’s ability to play a significant role in that. We teachers want to believe that given enough time, effective effort, and support, every one of our students can be successful. As educators, the idea of intelligence being a fixed, inborn characteristic would be limiting. So, as a matter of practice, we subscribe more heavily to the theory that nurture plays a more dominant role in human development.

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I have to admit though, watching my own boys grow and develop, it’s become a lot more evident to me that nature really does play a significant role. My three boys, all nurtured in the same environment, under very similar conditions, save for the automatic differences in birth order and changes that adding new members to the family have on a home environment. But, my three boys are just about as different as they can be, with their own individual strengths, interests, preferences, and challenges – traits which have been part of who they are since birth.

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My Liam is a creator, inventor, and planner. Hand the kid an old piece of cardboard, scissors, and a strip of painter’s tape and he’ll invent some revolutionary new technology which just might change the world. He’s also our head mischief-maker, in an ever-scheming, mad-scientist sort of way. He loves telling stories and doesn’t understand the reason for spaces between his words, either spoken or written. He’s a “What’s next?” sort of kid who wants to plow through the day filling it with as many experiences as possible. Liam doesn’t mind coloring, as long as he can do it fast and all with the same color.

Lucas is our character. He is silly and unabashedly honest with his emotions. The kid takes the stage and steals the show. Just last night, at his Irish step-dancing recital, he snuck out from behind the curtain before the show and spent a good five minutes flapping his arms and shaking his butt in front of the 100 or so people who’d gathered to watch the recital. After completing the first dance, while the rest of the dancers remained poised for the second dance, Lucas approached the front of the stage to shout to me about how much fun he was having. The curtain closed behind him. After spinning around and running nose first into the curtain, he giggled, then shuffled behind the curtain for his second dance. He feels things deeply, for better or worse. He likes his quesadillas with cheese only and “nothing I don’t like.” (If you’re sneaky about it, he will know.) He’s a songwriter, loves legos, and despises coloring.

Little James is a love. He requires copious amounts of hugs and kisses and snuggles, which he soaks up like a sponge and is generous in regifting to everyone he meets. He gives every child at the gym’s childcare a personal hug goodbye when we exit, and the gym cleaning lady gets one too. Sometimes he bites when he gets a bit to excited during a hug, sort of like a dolphin, which makes hugs a bit tense sometimes, but he’s irresistible. He thinks apples and corn on the cob are the best foods in the universe and he’s already trying to learn the alphabet – something the other boys had little interest in for most of their young lives. (His favorite letter is E.) James thinks coloring is the bee’s knees.

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They are who they are. And certainly, everything they experience throughout the rest of their lives will have an impact on who they will ultimately become, but it would be foolish to undervalue the unique people they were born as. I’ve learned that parenting, much like teaching, requires ongoing assessment of where our little people are in their lives, what natural talents and interests they possess, what motivates and what discourages them. Then, if we’re doing it right, we take all of that information and design little personalized plans that help nurture their existing strengths, expose them to other possible areas of interest, and teach strategies that might help them handle the areas of life which are more of a personal struggle.

So, do I treat all of my children the same? Absolutely not. I nurture each of my children in the way which seems to work best for them. We follow each of their natural leads and take it from there. Nature vs. nurture? I’m not sure. Ideally a bit of both, I guess, working harmoniously with each other to create unique, well-rounded, happy little people.

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Tomorrow, we welcome June. The weather is hot and soon my gaggle of small men will be off for a summer full of creating, destroying, laughing, crying, and loving. Our neighbors opened their pool yesterday and once again, I smacked myself in the head and thought, “Why the heck didn’t I start eating healthier months ago???” Somehow, I’m always too late for bathing suit season. But, the added bonus of the warm weather is that salads for dinner seem ever so much more crave-worthy. They’re light and fresh and have huge potential for deliciousness.

Here are two of my current favorite salads, both made with the same simple roasted red pepper vinaigrette. The dressing is light and flavorful, with a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. The protein-rich toppings on these salads make either option a quick and easy, satisfying summer dinner.

Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup roasted red peppers (from a jar works just fine or roast your own)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Pulse until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, as desired.

Salad Idea #1 – Spinach with Shrimp, Bacon, Corn, and Avocado – Chop the bacon and cook in a fry pan until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain over a paper towel. Cook large shrimp in the hot bacon fat for a minute or two on each side, until cooked through. Toss a generous serving of fresh baby spinach leaves in a bit of the roasted red pepper dressing. Top with the cooked bacon and shrimp, fresh avocado, and sweet corn.

Salad Idea #2 – Mediterranean – Toss romaine or butter lettuce in the roasted red pepper dressing. Top with garbanzo beans, kalamata olives, chopped sun-dried tomatoes and feta cheese crumbles.

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GIVEAWAY WINNER!! We have a winner! Using http://www.random.org to select a number at random, out of the 17 entries received for the $50 Shindigz gift card giveaway, the winner is #7, Jill fox. Congratulations, Jill!! I’m going to send you an email at the address provided with your comment to get the information necessary to fulfill your prize!! Thank you to everyone who entered!

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Spectacular Spinach Salad

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Process for Vacuuming a Room Without Kids:

Step 1: Remove vacuum cleaner from closet.
Step 2: Plug in the vacuum.
Step 3: Turn on the vacuum.
Step 4: Use the vacuum to suck debris and animal hair from the floor.
Step 5: Unplug and return the vacuum to the closet.
 
Approximate Time Required: 5 minutes

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Process for Vacuuming a Room With Kids:

Step 1: Remove vacuum cleaner from closet.
Step 2: Rehang all of the jackets which the baby pulled from the closet while you were removing the vacuum.
Step 3: Negotiate an argument over the remote between the two other kids.
Step 4: Plug in the vacuum.
Step 5: Instruct oldest kid to return the salamander to the outdoors and to stop squishing him.
Step 6: Replug the vacuum which the baby unplugged, while you were trying to save the salamander’s life.
Step 7: Return all vacuum accessories to their proper places.
Step 8: Turn on the vacuum.
Step 9: Begin vacuuming the room, while the baby rides on top of the vacuum, switching it off at intervals of 5 seconds.
Step 10: Turn the vacuum back on. Repeat as often as necessary in order to vacuum first half of room.
Step 11: Pause to console the child who is literally crying over spilt milk.
Step 12: Clean up the milk.
Step 13: Unravel the vacuum cord from the baby’s neck.
Step 14: Resume vacuuming the second half of the room.
Step 15: Revacuum the first half of the room after the baby spills goldfish on the floor, then crushes them riverdance-style.
Step 16: Instruct the children to put clothes on before playing outside.
Step 17: Accept that the vacuuming task is futile. Try again tomorrow.
 

Approximate Time Required: Unknown – This task has never been successfully completed.

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The actual experience, when sandwiched between twenty other equally impossible ‘simple’ tasks, is only remotely comical in writing. Experiencing it is a heart-pounding, curl-into-a-ball-and-cry-with-frustration, exercise in futility. (Yes, attempting to vacuum a room has brought me to tears more times than I’d care to admit.) If only I could learn to accept this loss of control over accomplishing simple tasks. Each day feels like a mad rush of tasks, errands, and chores, yet there is scarce evidence of the work accomplished by the end. Even the process of writing this simple blog post has been overly complicated by a million micro interruptions of the salamander, spilt milk, and crushed goldfish variety.

But recently I have managed to find the most perfect peace in a somewhat unusual place…the gym. Many people dread going to the gym. For me, the gym’s bright, sterile environment invokes the same calm as a dimly lit spa with soothing water features. I feel my heart rate decelerate when I walk through those doors, because my gym offers childcare. So, every day, I have been shuffling the little ones off to the gym, where I claim one hour to use as I please. One precious hour, where I am the master of my time, to select a task and complete it with minimal interruptions. One hour where I can choose to move slowly between the strength training machines or to let my heart race with the endorphins of a good run as compared to the cortisol of home stress. That hour may not make vacuuming a room any less stressful, but at least I had that one blissful hour.

And truly, as completing any task is basically impossible anyway, that one hour removed from my daily duties, has made little to no difference with respect to the condition of my house. Now, if that daily hour manages to make a difference with respect to the condition of my waistline, that will be the icing on the cake.

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Thankfully, the kids actually love going to the Kids Korner at the gym. There are novel toys and video games (which are a bit more violent than anything I allow in our home, thus exciting in an illicit way) and other kids to socialize with. So, in addition to my daily weekday gym escape, we’ve been taking a family trip to the gym each weekend. A post-gym stop at Panera for lunch, where we pick up salads and smoothies and other sorts of yummy feel-good food, has become part of our weekend routine.

I’ve been crushing on Panera’s Spinach Power Salad ever since they introduced it to the menu. I could eat it everyday, but that be bad for my wallet. So, I’ve come up with my own version of a salad inspired by Panera’s tasty offering. My salad features the same fresh baby spinach, topped with sauteed mushrooms and onions, crispy bacon, protein-rich eggs, and crispy garlic-pepper onion straws, tossed in a simple vinaigrette made with sweet caramelized onions and a touch of honey. It’s a near perfect combination of flavors and textures, the sort of thing which makes a healthful salad feel like a treat.

Today’s Focus on Technique – Mustard as an Emulsifier

I add a touch of mustard to almost every vinaigrette I make. In addition to adding a satisfying hint of flavor, mustard has the ability to act as an emulsifier, binding the oil and vinegar, so that the dressing is less likely to separate. This secret superpower of mustard occurs as a result of the  ground mustard seed’s particles’ ability to coat tiny droplets of oil, allowing them to mix harmoniously with the vinegar or lemon juice in a dressing. It doesn’t take a lot, but has the best overall result with ground mustard powder or a good quality prepared mustard.

Spinach Salad with Bacon, Eggs, Mushrooms and Caramelized Onion Vinaigrette

Inspired by Panera’s Spinach Power Salad

Ingredients

  • 8 slices bacon, cooked to crisp, crumbled
  • 3 eggs, hardboiled and chopped
  • 9-12 cups baby spinach leaves

For the sauteed mushrooms and onions

  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups baby bella (cremini) mushrooms, sliced
  • Salt and pepper

For the dressing

  • 1/2 cup caramelized onions (from the sauteed onions)
  • 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Salt and pepper

For the crispy onions

  • 1 large sweet onion, very thinly sliced
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1-1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Vegetable oil, for frying

Directions

For the sauteed mushrooms and onions: Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the onion. Cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender and golden. Remove the onions from the pan. Set 1/2 cup aside for the dressing. Save the remaining onions for topping the salad. Add a touch more oil to the pan, if necessary. Add the mushrooms and cook for about 7-10 minutes, until tender and golden. Season with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

For the caramelized onion vinaigrette: In a blender or food processor, combine the caramelized onions, vinegar, oil, mustard, and honey. Blend until well combined. Season with salt and pepper.

For the crispy garlic-pepper onion straws: Soak the sliced onions in the buttermilk for 30 minutes or so. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, garlic powder, and pepper. In a large fry pan, heat about 1 inch of vegetable oil at medium/medium-high heat for a few minutes, until it’s good and hot. In small batches, remove some of the onions from the buttermilk, shake to remove excess, then toss in the flour mixture until well coated. Scatter the onions in the oil. If the oil is hot enough, they should sizzle instantly and cook to golden and crispy in about two minutes. Remove the onions with a slotted spoon and drain over a paper towel. Repeat with remaining onions.

To assemble the salad: Toss a generous serving of spinach leaves (3-4 cups) with a bit of the dressing. Top the salad with the sauteed onions and mushrooms, chopped boiled egg, bacon, and the crispy garlic-pepper onions.

Makes 3-4 large salads

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Pasta with Ham and Mushrooms in a Creamy Spinach Ricotta Sauce

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If you celebrate Easter, it’s likely that come Sunday, you may find yourself with an excess of boiled eggs, some ham, and maybe even some candy. With that in mind, I’ve gathered up a few tasty ideas on how to make delicious use of those leftovers, including a brand new, super-simple recipe for pasta with ham and mushrooms in a creamy, cheesy spinach ricotta sauce.

What to do with Leftover Boiled Eggs…

Creole Deviled Eggs

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Deviled Egg Salad

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Pasta with Bacon, Eggs, and Spinach

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What to do with Leftover Candy…

Cadbury Creme Crepes

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What to do with Leftover Ham…

Ham and Corn Chowder

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Grilled Peach and Prosciutto Salad with Creamy BBQ Dressing (use sliced ham in place of prosciutto)

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Grilled Brie, Prosciutto and Apricot Sandwiches (use ham in place of prosciutto)

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Chicken Cordon Bleu Panini

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Pasta with Ham and Mushrooms in a Creamy Spinach Ricotta Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more if necessary
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 2 cups baby bella mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 6-ounce bag baby spinach leaves, chopped
  • 2 cups leftover ham, diced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 pound pasta, cooked al dente
  • Additional parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper, for garnish

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms. Cook for 7-10 minutes until tender and lightly caramelized. Remove the mushrooms from the pan and set aside. Add a touch more olive oil to the pan, if necessary, then add the onion. Cook for 5-7 minutes until tender and golden. Add the garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Add the ricotta cheese, milk, and parmesan cheese. Cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until hot and well blended. Add the mushrooms, ham and spinach. Gently simmer for a few minutes until the spinach is wilted. Taste and season with salt and pepper, as desired. Pour the sauce over cooked pasta and toss to combine. Garnish with crushed red pepper and additional parmesan cheese, if desired.

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Sweet and Spicy Honey Chipotle Infused Beets

Between the three boys’ birthdays, holidays, and my general love of entertaining, we host a good number of parties each year. So, it’s no surprise that we make regular trips to our local Party City.

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The curious thing is that visits to Party City have become high on the boys’ lists of favorite things to do. They ask for trips to Party City as rewards for good behavior. Musings about trips to Party City have even showed up in the boys’ school work. I’ve collected all varieties of art involving their favorite party supply store. Liam even listed it as his favorite place to visit in his kindergarten ‘All About Me’ book. And on last year’s Mother’s Day card, where every child in Liam’s class listed a reason they love their mother; things like She gives the best hugs, and She kisses all my boo-boos, and Her smile is brighter than the sun; Liam’s contribution was, She takes me to Party City. Clearly, I win the mother-of-the-year award.

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It’s like this mystical, magical land of party supplies and costumes. It’s pure fun, brightly displayed in a warehouse setting, with golden oldies playing in the background. There’s a wall covered in balloons, buckets full of candy and toys, and a whole rack of wacky sunglasses. What kid wouldn’t love Party City? But my boys take their love further than most.

So, I shouldn’t have been surprised about what happened as we were walking past Party City on a recent excursion for boots. We’d exited Famous Footwear, with James in his stroller and the boys in tow. As we neared Party City, the energy become palpable. James’ Elmo-radar activated at the sight of a 9-foot tall cardboard Elmo in the window. He began manically chanting Elmo, Elmo, Elmo as the boys bounced ahead of us. Liam and Lucas were buzzing on pure adrenaline by this point. As we began to make our pass, the automatic doors to Party City opened, as if by command of the boys’ enthusiasm. Keep moving, I instructed. Keep moving.

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But they didn’t keep moving. They just stood there; the two boys, side by side in the open doorways of their beloved Party City, as the cold winter weather rushed into the warm dreamland of party supplies. And then, in eerily perfect unison, they shouted into the bellows of the party warehouse, WE LOVE YOU, PARTY CITY!! WE LOVE YOU!!!!!!!!!!!

What I would give to see the security footage of that moment!

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Like many others, I’ve been watching what I eat in the new year. As such, I’ve been dining on more salads than sandwiches and more scrambled egg whites than pancakes. But I need bold, satisfying flavors in my salads to keep me interested and keep me on track with my goals. Tender, slow-roasted beets which are infused with the sweet and spicy flavors of honey and chipotle have been providing exactly the sort of intense flavor I desire in a salad. Combine them with a bit of crisp and salty applewood-smoked bacon and a few crumbles of goat cheese, on top of a big pile of mixed greens tossed in a white balsamic vinaigrette and you’ve got a salad I would crave no matter what my fitness goals!

Today’s Focus on Technique – Uses for Beet Greens

Don’t let those gorgeous beet greens go to waste! They are delicious and good for you too! Use them in the same way you might use spinach, kale, or collard greens. Add them to salads, soups, sandwiches, or smoothies. Sauteé them with a bit of olive oil and garlic or bake them up like crispy kale chips.

Sweet and Spicy Honey Chipotle Infused Beets

Ingredients

  • 5-6 medium-sized beets
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 chipotle peppers (from a can of chipotle in adobo), very finely diced or pureed

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the top and bottom off of each beet. Rinse the beets, them securely wrap them in a piece of aluminum foil. Place the foil packet into a baking dish, then bake for about 90 minutes, until the tip of a knife inserts easily. Allow the beets to cool at room temperature. When cool enough to handle, use your fingers to slip the skins from the beets. (This will work best when they’re still slightly warm.) Alternately, you can use a knife to remove the skin. Cut the beets into fourths or eighths. Place them in a bowl. In a separate container, whisk together the apple cider vinegar, honey, and chipotle, until well blended. Pour the mixture over the beets, so that they are covered by the marinade. Refrigerate for a few hours.

Serving Suggestion - Serve your roasted, flavor-infused beets as part of a salad. Toss mixed greens (throw in the beet greens too) in a white balsamic vinaigrette (like the one used here). Top the greens with the beets, crumbled bacon, and a few crumbles of goat cheese. Vegetarians can substitute a small handful of pistachios for the bacon for equally delicious salty flavor and crunch.

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Thanksgiving Takes Two, Three, and Four

Happy Thanksgiving, friends!

I’ve got a bird to throw in the oven and a parade to watch. Just wanted to pop in to share these previously posted ideas for your Thanksgiving leftovers.

I’ll be starting my holiday cookie baking soon with a few new recipes to share (including a chewy chocolate orange cookie, laced with grand marnier and bits of candied orange peel), but I’ll also be posting a few of my old favorite cookie recipes over on The Gourmand Mom facebook page during the next few weeks. If you don’t already follow The Gourmand Mom on facebook, click on over using the link on the right side of the page. See you there!

Bursting with thankfulness,

~Amy

Thanksgiving Leftover Variation #1 – Turkey Soup

Don’t let that turkey carcass go to waste! There’s so much flavor waiting to be extracted from those bones. Get the broth started right after dinner. Simply throw the whole turkey carcass into a large pot, cover with water, and simmer (partly covered) for 3-4 hours. Don’t worry if there’s still some meat or turkey skin hanging on the turkey! Just throw the whole thing in the pot and let it start working while you sit down to enjoy some pumpkin pie. Once it’s simmered, strain the broth and refrigerate overnight. The next day, you can finish making the soup. Click here for my step-by-step guide to making a basic chicken soup. You can follow the same process for turkey soup.

Thanksgiving Leftover Variation #2 – Open-faced Thanksgiving Sandwich

In my opinion, this is the best way to use leftovers on the day after Thanksgiving, when you’ve still got a bit of everything in the fridge. Simply reheat some leftover turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. Spread some cranberry sauce on a lightly toasted slice of thick, doughy bread. Then, top the cranberry sauce with the hot turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes. Drizzle hot gravy over the entire thing and enjoy. This is a knife and fork kind of sandwich; simple, hearty, and satisfying.

Click here for more details on making an open-faced turkey sandwich any time of year.

Thanksgiving Leftover Variation #3 – Roast Turkey, Brie, and Homemade Apple Butter Melts

This is my new personal favorite. Such a perfect combination of flavors. I happen to love apple butter; always have and probably always will. You can find it in most grocery stores, usually near the  jams and jellies. Look for one which doesn’t contain a lot of unnecessary added sugar or corn syrup. Apple butter really doesn’t need anything other than apples and a bit of apple cider or apple juice. Apple butter is a cinch to make at home. So, if you can’t find any at your store, follow my simple recipe to make your own. And, if apple butter just isn’t your thing, substitute some leftover cranberry sauce on these sandwiches. It will pair beautifully with the brie.

For the sandwiches, thinly slice brie and spread it onto a sturdy piece of bread. I prefer to use ciabatta or pain de campagne, but any doughy, crusty bread should work. Spread apple butter (or cranberry sauce) onto another piece of bread. Place a few slices of roasted turkey breast between the bread slices. Loosely wrap the sandwich in foil and bake for about 20-25 minutes in a 350 degrees oven, until the cheese has melted, the bread feels slightly toasted, and the turkey is warm.

Homemade Apple Butter

Ingredients

  • 5-6 apples, peeled, cores removed, and coarse chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups apple cider
  • Cinnamon stick (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Simmer the apple pieces in the apple cider for about 20 minutes. If desired, add a cinnamon stick to simmer with the mixture. Then, puree the apples until smooth. Pour the puree into an oven-safe covered pan and place in the oven for about 5 hours. The apple butter will darken to a rich brown as it cooks.

Thanksgiving Leftover Variation #4 – Turkey Salad Sandwiches

Turkey salad is a simple and delicious way to breathe new life into the remainder of your turkey leftovers. I love it on a lightly toasted bagel with a slice of swiss cheese. To make a basic turkey salad, simply chop or tear your leftover turkey into small pieces. Add some finely diced onion and celery. Combine with just enough mayonnaise and mustard to bind the salad. Season with salt and pepper, as desired. Stir in some dried cranberries for an extra tasty touch!

Grilled Soy-Ginger Flank Steak and Asian Cabbage Slaw

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I’ve written before about my Lucas and his regard for the truth. If Lucas tells you that pink elephants are falling from the sky, you’d better seek cover and fast. The kid doesn’t lie.

What I didn’t realize until recently is that his regard for the truth carries over into his assumption that everyone else around him is also always telling the truth. My first inkling of this issue occurred on an afternoon when Lucas approached the screen door, which was locked to prevent the baby from letting himself out. He called inside, where my husband and I were sitting, and requested to be let in. In what should have been obvious jest, my husband called back, Nope, sorry. You’re an outside kid now. I giggled. Lucas did not. He instantly crumbled to the deck floor and sobbed, But…I don’t want to live outside. 

His literal interpretation of any statement explains why he became so upset when his older brother told him we were going to put salt on his ice cream cone instead of sprinkles. It also explains why a simple game of hide-and-seek with his brother became so complex. Lucas was assigned the role of seeker. Liam came crashing into the house, ran into the bathroom and slammed the door behind him. Very un-ninja-like. Lucas began counting, 1.. 2.. 3.. 4.. 5.. 6.. 100. Then, he began searching the house. Meanwhile, Liam is raising a ruckus in the bathroom…slamming the toilet seat, running the water, banging into walls. Lucas jiggled the bathroom door knob, but couldn’t get the door open. So, he called into the bathroom, Are you in there, Liam? Liam (clearly from the bathroom) shouted, No…I’m under the dining room table. Lucas ran off to check under the table. Unable to locate his brother in the dining room, Lucas returned to the bathroom to ask, Where are you? Liam then explained that he was hiding under the kitchen table. Lucas, of course, checked the kitchen table and then came to me and sadly said, I can’t find Liam. 

He’s in the bathroom, silly goose.

I cried myself laughing when I shared this story with my husband. As exhausting as it often feels to spend spend all day, every day, with my very busy kids, I am so happy to be able to witness these funny times in their lives.

At the end of a busy day of mind-boggling hide-and-seek, a delicious dinner is always in order. This meal is inspired by a cabbage salad I recently had the pleasure of tasting at a friend’s barbecue. I’ve tasted other similar salads; fresh cabbage in a sweet, tangy dressing, topped with some sort of nut and crushed ramen noodles. It’s the ramen noodles that sell me every time. Seriously, how addicting are uncooked ramen noodles?? I decided I’d come up with my own rendition of an Asian cabbage salad, sweetened with honey, mixed with sweet red pepper and bean sprouts, and finished with cashews and the gotta-have-‘em ramen noodles. This recipe makes a bucketful of the addictive salad. I’ve been happily eating it for three days now.

But, this meal doesn’t stop with the salad. Using the same set of ingredients in different proportions, I came up with a simple soy-ginger marinade, which I dunked a nicely trimmed flank steak into. I let the steak chill out in the marinade for about an hour or so, then I threw it on the grill and sliced it up to serve over the cabbage salad. Let me tell you, aside from imparting savory goodness into the meat, this marinade did something magical to the steak. Even though I let my steak go a bit too long on the grill, the result was incredibly tender, practically falling apart around the exterior. Even the baby, with all of his six (almost eight) perfect teeth, thoroughly enjoyed this steak. I’m sure the tenderizing has something to do with the soy sauce in the marinade breaking down the proteins in the steak. Honestly, I’m just as content to believe it’s a magical marinade.

I told Lucas it was magic. He ate all of his steak, of course.

Grilled Soy-Ginger Flank Steak

Ingredients

  • 1 flank steak (1.5-2 pounds), trimmed of excess fat
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sambal oelek (ground chili paste)*

*Can substitute cayenne pepper, to taste

Directions

Whisk together the soy sauce, ginger, oil, honey, garlic, rice vinegar, and sambal oelek until well combined. Pour the mixture over the steak in an air-tight container. Refrigerate for about an hour or two. Periodically turn the steak in the marinade so that all sides are coated.

After the steak has been well marinaded, preheat the grill at medium heat. Place the steak on the grill. Allow the steak to cook for approximately 6 minutes on each side, or until it reaches your desired doneness. Remove the steak from the grill and allow to rest for 5 minutes before slicing.

Serves about 6

Asian Cabbage Slaw

Ingredients

  • 1 head cabbage, shaved or very thinly sliced
  • 1 sweet red pepper, ribs and seeds removed, shaved or very thinly sliced
  • 1 cup bean sprouts
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sambal oelek
  • 1 cup roasted cashews
  • 1 package ramen noodles, uncooked, broken into small pieces

Directions

In a very large bowl or container, combine the cabbage, red pepper, and bean sprouts. Toss to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, honey, ginger, soy sauce, and sambal oelek until well blended. Pour the dressing over the cabbage mixture and toss until well combined. Add the cashews and toss to disperse. Refrigerate for at least an hour. Add the crushed ramen noodles just before serving.

Serves about 8

Grilled Peach and Prosciutto Salad with Creamy BBQ Dressing

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There’s a little angel who lives on one of my shoulders, whispering, Be a good girl, Amy. Eat the apple instead of the brownie. Put down that fifth glass of wine. Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. 

There’s a little devil on the other shoulder. He woos me with sexy little suggestions like, Come on, Amy…life’s too short to not enjoy delicious food. You’re not that much overweight. That chocolate will taste even better than skinny will feel. And wine is good for you…scientists say so. Trust me. Trust me. 

I was never ‘overweight’ until I had my babies. As a child, I was one of those featherweight gals who could scarf down remarkable quantities of lemon Italian ices, yodels, and meatball subs without a care. My hunger was infinite. In high school, I gained height without weight and bordered on scrawny. I sobbed like there was no tomorrow over my flat-chested fate. In college, I quickly gained the freshman fifteen (or twenty) on a diet of pizza, beer and Lucky Charms. It filled me out and gave me the curves I’d craved so badly in my youth. I slimmed down by the end of my college days. From there on out, I maintained a healthy weight, with barely an effort. I haven’t been ‘skinny’ since my high school days. But I was healthy and trim.

And then I had my boys. I gained a little more than I should have with each pregnancy. I lost most of the weight between pregnancies with a bit of discipline, but still started each pregnancy five pounds heavier than the one before. And now, here I sit, over a year after the birth of my third son, still struggling to get my weight down. It’s been harder this time. I’m not that far out of a healthy weight range for my height, but those pounds make a difference.

I started this year pumped full of motivation to lose the baby weight, just like millions of others who make grand new year resolutions and swear they’ll stick with them. I actually had a really successful start and quickly lost 15 or so pounds early in the year. And then I got lax and the number on the scale started creeping up again. I’ve been playing the yo-yo game ever since. Lose a few, gain a few, lose a few, gain a few. Lather, rinse and repeat. It would be so much easier if I didn’t love food so darn much!

The funny thing about those little guys on my shoulders is that, in my mind, the angel is blissfully plump. The devil is thin and decrepit. I secretly think that the angel wants me to enjoy the chocolate. He wants me to enjoy the beautiful world of delicious food…just in moderation, of course.

Thankfully, there’s no shortage of drool-worthy food out there which can still be enjoyed within the framework of wanting to shed a few pounds. And there’s no better time than the summer, when produce is at its peak and the hot weather naturally inclines us to eat lighter, to achieve those healthful goals. Take advantage of the season’s bounty to enjoy fresh salads full of vibrant summer flavors, like this grilled peach and prosciutto salad in a creamy barbecue-inspired dressing. Ripe peaches, at their summer best, get grilled to bring out even more of their natural sweetness. Combine that with crisp red onion slices, savory prosciutto, and salty gorgonzola, drizzled with a slightly-spicy BBQ dressing, and you’ll be singing summer’s praises.

Grilled Peach and Prosciutto Salad with Creamy BBQ Dressing

Ingredients

  • 3 peaches, sliced
  • 8 slices prosciutto, chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, very thinly sliced
  • 8 cups mixed spring greens
  • 3/4 cup gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
  • Vegetable oil, for rubbing the grill

For the Creamy BBQ Dressing:

  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup mayonaisse
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Directions

Wipe your grill with a bit of vegetable oil to help prevent sticking. Preheat the grill at medium heat. Place the peach slices on the preheated grill and cook for a couple minutes on each side, until tender. (The peaches can be used hot off the grill or chilled.)

To prepare the dressing, stir the ketchup, mayo, brown sugar, mustard, worcestershire sauce, vinegar, onion powder, and cayenne pepper together until smooth. Refrigerate until using.

To assemble the salad, place about 2 cups of the spring greens on each plate. Scatter the onion slices over the greens. Arrange the peaches in the center. Top with the prosciutto and gorgonzola. Drizzle with the dressing.

Makes 4 Entree-Sized Salads

Crab Cake Summer Salad

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My five-year old, Liam, and his three-year-old younger brother, Lucas, are inseparable. Yet the two boys could hardly be more different. One of the most notable displays of their differences comes in the form of their regard for truth-telling.

We like to joke that with Lucas, you always know where you stand. He does not mince words and he tells it like it is, for better or worse. The kid does not tell a lie, ever. Even at the cost of rewards or consequences.

Lucas, did you hit your brother?
Yes, I did. He looked at me funny.
What’s that smell, Lucas?
It’s me. I farted.
Lucas, are you going to cooperate for Mommy today?
No, I’m not. (Spoken with a voice of unfortunate regret and calm, matter-of-fact truth.)
 

Liam, on the other hand, is almost always scheming for his next treat or devising a plan to get his hands on some forbidden item. And he is hardly ever not spinning some story.

Whatcha doing, Liam?
Nothing.
It’s impossible to be doing nothing. What are you really doing?
Seriously, Mommy. I’m not doing any mischief. (Indicator of certain mischief)
If I need to come in there to see what you’re doing, I’m going to be upset.
Alright…I’m climbing on a precarious pile of knives, broken glass, and samurai swords, trying to get to the candy on top of the fridge. 
 

So, on the afternoon, when Lucas came crying to us, claiming that Liam had spit on him, we were inclined to believe him. When confronted, Liam repeatedly insisted that he did not spit on his brother. Finally, as my husband puts it, he played the Jesus card. In his words, I pay for Catholic school. That gives me the right to play the Jesus card. The Jesus card goes something like this: What would Jesus think if he found out you were lying? (Apparently, the infamous Catholic guilt doesn’t come from the church. It comes from the parents.)

But it worked. Liam let out a sigh and then reluctantly said, Alright… He then proceeded to carefully explain that he did in fact spit. And it was, in fact, in Lucas’ general direction. But he wasn’t spitting at Lucas. Lucas just happened to get in the way of the spit.

Sure…

The lesson here is…when in doubt, ask Lucas. And don’t take anything Liam tells you at face value.

I’m more of a Lucas when it comes to the truth, which goes to say that you can believe me when I tell you that this salad belongs on your list of must-make recipes for the summer. It’s a simple variation of one of my older recipes (Chilled Avocado Soup and Crab Cake with Chipotle Remoulade). In this variation, a simple broiled crab cake, loaded with crab meat and just enough filler to hold it together, is set atop a salad of mixed greens, ripe avocado, sweet corn, and summer tomatoes. A drizzle of spicy chipotle remoulade dressing completes the dish. This entree salad makes the perfect light, but satisfying summer dish. Crab, avocado, tomatoes, corn, and chipotle pepper…honestly, summer heaven.

Crab Cake Summer Salad with Chipotle Remoulade Dressing

Ingredients

For the Crab Cakes

  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs (regular or whole wheat)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons mayonaisse
  • 2 teaspoons Creole seasoning, such as Old Bay
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 pound jumbo lump or backfin crab meat, cooked*

For the Dressing

  • 1/2 cup mayonaisse
  • 1 chipotle pepper (from a can of chipotles in adobo)
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon sweet relish

For the Salad

  • 8 cups mixed spring greens
  • 1 ripe avocado, peeled and chopped**
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly shaved
  • 1 cup sweet corn kernels

* Look for fresh-picked crabmeat in the seafood section of your grocery store. It’s a fresher alternative than canned crabmeat and a heck of a lot more convenient than picking your own crab meat!

** Click HERE for my photo guide on how to slice an avocado.

Directions

For the Crab Cakes: Preheat broiler. Wipe a baking sheet with a bit of olive or vegetable oil (to prevent sticking.) Combine all ingredients, except the crab meat, in a bowl. Mix until well blended. Gently fold the crab meat into the other ingredients, taking care not to break up the chunks too much. Use your hands to form four equal sized balls of the crab mixture. Gently flatten the balls into thick patties and place on the prepared baking sheet. Place the baking sheet several inches under the broiler and cook for about 10 minutes until completely heated through.

For the Dressing: Combine mayo, chipotle, relish, and mustard in a blender or food processor.  Blend until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning, if desired. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To Assemble the Salad: Arrange about 2 cups of mixed greens on each plate. Scatter with the avocado, tomatoes, corn, and red onions. Place a warm crab cake in the center. Drizzle with the dressing.

Makes 4 Salads

Watermelon Tomato Summer Salad

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I’m beginning to feel like I’m being set up to play the role of the little old lady who swallowed a fly. I live in a quiet suburban neighborhood outside of Syracuse, NY. It’s a peaceful neighborhood, filled with big, old trees; trees with stature and history. But it’s not a wooded area, by far. It’s neither city, nor country. Just a nice, old suburban neighborhood.

And as in many suburban neighborhoods, we have the occasional sightings of small woodland creatures; squirrels, chipmunks, an infrequent rabbit…nothing too unusual. Every so often, we have the pleasure of spotting a befuddled deer standing in the middle of the road, before it gallops off to find its family. But lately, these sightings are becoming more common and increasingly bizarre. Deer seem to be everywhere these days. (One of them even charged my husband’s car the other night.) And I’ve yet to figure out the large crane-like bird I spotted standing beside the small creek which runs behind my local Target.

Since our yard is fully fenced, animal sightings (aside from our own labrasaurus rex) on our property were once rare. Lately however, it’s a practical wild kingdom out there. Our perimeters have been breached. We are now the proud step-parents of a sweet brown bunny with a fluffy white tail, an orange mouse-catching tabby cat, at least one chipmunk, and a woodchuck…all of whom visit on a regular rotating basis whenever the kids or dog are not occupying the yard. Just this morning, I watched as the tabby cat (sans mouse) took his patrolling position atop the fence, much to the dismay of the woodchuck who was leisurely roaming the yard. It’s like my very own menagerie out there. Anyone know what woodchucks eat?

She swallowed the deer to catch the woodchuck. She swallowed the woodchuck to catch the crane. She swallowed the crane to catch the cat. She swallowed the cat to catch the mouse. She swallowed the mouse to catch the fly… I don’t know why she swallowed the fly. Perhaps she’ll die.

I don’t think I like where this is all headed.

But it’s no wonder my neighborhood is being taken over by the wild. It’s been absolutely gorgeous out there. Gone are the winter coats and gone are the days of heavy macaroni and cheeses, filling casseroles, and slow-cooked roasts. This is the time for simple grilled foods and light, refreshing side dishes, like this watermelon and tomato salad. This salad just screams summer to me. Sweet watermelon and fresh orange segments are tossed with summer-ripe tomatoes in a light orange-dijon vinaigrette. It’s beautifully vibrant in both color and flavor!

I served this summery salad as part of our Father’s Day dinner, aside slices of grilled flank steak, which I drizzled in balsamic reduction and topped with gorgonzola and homemade crispy onion straws. It’s a perfect meal to bring in the summer!

Watermelon-Tomato Summer Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 cups seedless watermelon, scooped into small balls
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 oranges, segmented*
  • 1/4 cup red onion, thinly shaved
  • 5-6 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade**
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/8 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest (from one of the oranges)
  • Salt
  • Crushed red pepper
*Click HERE to see my photo guide on how to segment an orange.
**Click HERE to see my photo guide on how to chiffonade.

Directions

Combine the watermelon, cherry tomatoes, orange segments, red onion, and basil in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the orange juice, olive oil, red wine vinegar, mustard, and orange zest until well blended. Season with salt and crushed red pepper as desired. Pour the vinaigrette over the fruits and toss to combine. Serve chilled.

Spicy Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad

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Many years ago, my husband and I decided we wanted to watch the movie, Zodiac, starring Jake Gyllenhaal. We went down to our local Redbox machine to pick up the movie. We grabbed a six-pack of beer, some snacks and settled in to enjoy the film. About thirty minutes into the movie, one of us commented that it was odd that we hadn’t seen Jake Gyllenhaal yet, but we kept watching. An hour past; no Jake. We kept watching. Then, the screen went black, in the moment just before the credits rolled. And somehow we were still expecting Jake Gyllenhaal’s appearance. He never appeared. Turns out that we had rented The Zodiac, starring nobody you know. The length of time it took for us to discover our mistake leaves some room for concern.

And then there are movies whose titles sound similar, yet whose content is nothing alike. This can also lead to some interesting mishaps, like the time our father intended to record The Goonies for my young sisters and I to watch as children. Had he truly recorded The Goonies, we surely would have enjoyed watching the movie together. But, my well-intentioned father had not in fact recorded The Goonies. What he had inadvertently recorded was a horror movie about small toothy monsters called Ghoulies. The movie opened with a terrifying scene which gave us nightmares for weeks afterward and caused me to discard my once favorite nightgown, which was creepily similar to the one worn by a short-lived character in the opening scene; the opening scene which will forever be burned into my mind.

Note to self: Double check that I have in fact recorded Mickey Mouse Clubhouse for the kids to watch and not Mickey Mouse’s House of Torture and Pain.

Watching tv can be tricky. Good food doesn’t need to be. This family-pleasing pasta salad marries sweet summer corn with tender broccoli and crispy bacon in a spicy ranch dressing. It’s a perfect balance of flavors and textures which would make a great summer side salad for your next picnic or barbecue. There’s no room for confusion here. This is good stuff, people!

Spicy Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 pound small pasta, cooked al dente according to package directions
  • 2 cups broccoli, lightly steamed and chopped
  • 1 cup sweet corn kernels
  • 5-6 slices bacon, cooked and chopped

For the dressing:

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp dry mustard powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 5-6 chives, chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 2-3 tablespoons diced chiles, fresh or canned*
  • 1/2 teaspoon chile powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (plus more, if desired)*

Directions

To make the dressing: Stir together the sour cream and mayonnaise, until smooth. Add the lemon juice, salt, pepper, dry mustard powder, onion powder, garlic powder, and paprika. Stir in the chopped chives, diced chiles, chile powder and cayenne. Taste and adjust seasoning, as desired.

Toss the pasta, broccoli, corn, and bacon with the dressing. Refrigerate until serving.

*You can adjust the quantities of chiles and cayenne pepper based on your family’s preferred level of spiciness. As written, it will produce a medium spicy dressing.


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