Old School Tomato Salad

I called my guys to the dinner table. Hubby poured a cold drink and brought the salad to the table. He poked at it with his dinner fork.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Where is the salad dressing?” No dressing, it’s a tomato salad.

“Where is the lettuce?” No lettuce, it’s a tomato salad.

“What is that green stuff on top?” Celery leaves. Now sit down and eat!

Sometimes that man makes me just a little nuts! I told him earlier we were having a tomato salad with dinner tonight. Tomato salad. I didn’t think further explanation was necessary. Apparently, I was wrong. Do you have one of these guys at home? Don’t you just love them!

Old School Tomato Salad
4 large, ripe tomatoes (softball size)
1-2 large celery ribs, thinly sliced
½ Vidalia onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
extra virgin olive oil
1 Pinch flaky sea salt (if you have a salt-cellar, a spoonful or two should be enough)
leafy celery tops

Slice the tomatoes into large wedges. You should be able to get 6-8 wedges per tomato. Place tomatoes into a large bowl.

Using a mandoline, thinly slice celery and onion. Toss into the bowl with the tomato wedges.

Sprinkle the dried oregano over the salad. Season with a couple of pinches of salt. Drizzle olive oil over the tomatoes. A few turns around the bowl should be good.

Add some leafy celery tops. Toss gently to combine.

Chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour, minimum ½ hour. Taste your tomato salad and adjust with more salt and/or olive oil.

Simple Salad

Often, when sharing a recipe, I will end by saying serve with warm bread and/or a simple salad to complete the meal. No biggie – everyone knows what a simple salad might be. The reality of a simple salad is just what the name suggests – some mixed greens, tomatoes and whatever else you feel like tossing into the mix.

Sometimes we will serve a simple salad alongside the main dish instead of a vegetable dish or as a way of adding color to the plate. More often than not in our house, a simple salad is the conclusion to supper. Call it European style dining if you like, having the salad at the end of the meal does two things – it allows you to have the hot foods while they are still hot, and it’s a refreshing end. Cool, crisp – perfect.

I am sure everyone has their own take on a simple salad. Here is mine.

Simple Salad
1 Package Mixed Green Salad
2 Green Onions, Chopped
1/2 Cucumber, sliced
3 or 4 White Mushrooms (button mushrooms), sliced
Grape or Cherry Tomatoes, handful
Garlic Croutons, if desired

Toss mixed greens with onions in a large salad bowl.  Tuck cucumber slices around outer edge. Sprinkle sliced mushrooms and tomatoes on top of greens.

Serve salad on chilled plates, sprinkle with croutons (if using) and a selection of dressings on the side.

Chili Lime Shrimp and Avocado Salad

As part of the Labor Day Weekend, my family has decided to take advantage of the three-day weekend with a pre-Labor Day get together. My sister and I talked about what to serve. There will be plenty of “grilling” on Monday, Labor Day. So grilled meats are out. Our most recent get together for Liar’s Dice was also a good excuse for a Spaghetti Bar. A Spaghetti Feed was out. The only thing we knew was that whatever the menu, we wanted to serve it “Bar Banquet” style. A little swimming, a little visiting, and an afternoon of “grazing”.

After a series of email discussions, we’ve settled on a Taco Bar. The beauty of a Taco Bar is that all the “hot” foods can be prepared ahead of time and kept warm in a line of crock pots. As the queen of crock pots (four and counting) this would be easy.

Dad is bringing fresh tomatoes from his garden. My sister is in charge of the chips and salsa, the usual Taco Toppings – lettuce, sour cream, cheese, and the fixings for Margaritas. Your truly will be making the meat filling for tacos, a big crock of Mexican Rice with Chunky Salsa and another for the Super Easy Refried Beans. (I’m still kicking around the idea of picking up some Tamales from the Mexican Market to steam or making Cheese Enchiladas – depending upon time and level of ambition).

Wow – are we talking about an awesome spread or what! The only things missing are desserts and a salad. You know me, can’t have “holes” in the menu. As for desserts, we are in luck – there is a great Mexican Market and Bakery with a large selection of cakes and pastries (how convenient – the market also carries an assortment of hand-made Tamales) Dessert is handled. On to the salad –

In my search for a nice salad, I came across this beautiful salad on the californiaavocado.com website. Too pretty not to share . . .

Chili Lime Shrimp and Avocado Salad
1 ripe, Fresh California Avocado, skin removed and sliced
12 oz fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined (medium size, raw)
4 cups mixture of romaine and red leaf lettuce
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
Juice of one lime (about 2 Tbsp.)
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
Sea Salt and Fresh Black Pepper to Taste

Combine avocado and lettuce on a large platter and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Combine lime juice, chili powder and sea salt in small bowl and set aside. Mist greens with olive oil spray. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in saute pan over medium high heat.

Add shrimp to saute pan searing on each side about 2 minutes; pour lime juice mixture over half way through the cooking.

Top avocado salad with cooked shrimp.

Use a spoon to drizzle any remaining lime juice sauce over the salad. Serve immediately.

Butterfly Pesto Pasta Salad – As summer begins to fade

My oh my – where did the summer go? Okay, so in the Northern Hemisphere, the actual end of summer and beginning of fall is September 22nd. However; the unofficial end of summer is Labor Day Weekend – that last hurrah. How is it possible that the entire summer has managed to slip by me and I haven’t made one of my favorite picnic salads all year? Hum, wonder if not going on a picnic has anything to do with it? This has been one short, hot summer!

This recipe is one I have shared before – as part of bigger cast of players with Let’s Pack a Picnic Together and again on its own a two years ago (yeah, it’s that good)! My guys aren’t pesto fans, but they sure do like this creamy pasta salad. I’ve even served it up in the shape of a butterfly. (Hey, cake pans aren’t just for baking cakes ya know – I use mine as molds for all sorts of things. Just as cookie cutters aren’t just for cookies).

This pasta dish would great for your next barbecue party. While others might be providing the chips and salsa to the next backyard get together, you can bring the pasta salad – cool, creamy and oh so delicious!

Butterfly Pesto Pasta Salad
3 Garlic Cloves, unpeeled
1 Cup Fresh Basil
1 ½ Cups Baby Spinach
¼ Cups Pine Nuts
¼ Cup Olive Oil
3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
Salt & Pepper
¼ Cup Parmesan Cheese
½ Cup Best Foods Mayonnaise
1 lb Farfalle Pasta (bow-tie)
1/4 Cup or so Reserved cooking water

Toast garlic in a small skillet over medium-heat, shaking pan occasionally, until fragrant and color deepens slightly, about 7 minutes. Let garlic cool, then peel and chop coarse.

Process garlic, basil, spinach, pine nuts, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in food processor until smooth, stopping to scrape down bowl as needed. Add Parmesan Cheese and mayonnaise, continue to process until thoroughly combined. Transfer pesto to a small bowl, cover and refrigerate until needed. (Mixture can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours).

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil. Add pasta and cook, stirring often, until pasta is just past al dente. Reserve ¼ cup of pasta cooking water, drain pasta. Toss pasta with a little olive oil and spread into a single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Let pasta cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

In a large bowl, toss cooled pasta with pesto, adding reserved pasta water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until pesto evenly coasts pasta.

Chef Salad – Perfect Summer Supper

I originally shared my Chef Salad back in  2014. With triple digits in the valley and no relief in sight, salads for supper are very appealing. The beauty of a Chef Salad is that there’s all sorts of things going on in the bowl – crisp summer veggies, eggs, strips of meat. It truly is a meal. Served with soft bread and sweet butter, who could ask for more?

The beauty of this colorful salad is that you can add or subtract as you please. Scatter some small shrimp in the salad if you like.  Not a fan of Romaine lettuce? Don’t include it. Maybe I’m all wrong, but it seems to be food should be tailored to personal tastes.

Hope you enjoy my salad, or are at least inspired . . .

Chef Salad for a Crowd
½ Head Green Leaf, torn into large pieces
½ Head Red Leaf Lettuce, torn into large pieces
1 Head Romaine Lettuce, torn into large pieces
½ lb small Red tomatoes (Cherry, Grape or Pear)
½ lb small Yellow Tomatoes (Yellow Pear or Yellow Submarine)
1 Red Onion, sliced thin
2 Cucumber, peeled and sliced semi-thin
1 Cup Fresh Mushrooms, sliced
¼ Lb Deli Chicken, Julianne Cut
¼ Lb Deli Roast Beef, Julianne Cut
¼ lb Deli Ham, Julianne cut
¼ Lb dried salami, chopped
4-6 Hard-boiled eggs, peeled and sliced
½ Cup Monterey Jack cheese, grated
Creamy Ranch or other dressings on the side

In a large bowl, combine lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, cucumbers and mushrooms, toss to blend. Add meats, toss again. Add half of the egg slices, tossing gently. Top salad with remaining egg slices and grated cheese. Serve with salad choice of dressings on the side.

Cucumber, Tomato and Shallot Salad

Tomorrow is our last day of adventure – tonight is our last night watching the sun set into the sea. From here, we head inland. Kiddo and Hubby have already hiked out to the beach. I promised to join them shortly. Just wanted to get in a quick recipe or two from the past posted before bundling up to enjoy the sun set.

This beautiful salad is one I’ve shared before – as part of my Family Supper Collection – One-Skillet Zita Bake with Cucumber Salad and Warm Bread. This salad is so delicious, so versatile and refreshing with just the right blend of white vinegar bite.

Hope everyone is having a wonderful summer!

Cucumber, Tomato and Shallot Salad
5 medium tomatoes, cut into slices
1 large cucumber, sliced
2 Shallots, sliced thin
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 Olive Oil
2 Garlic Cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground Salt
1 teaspoon Fresh Cracked Pepper
1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard

Slice tomatoes and cucumbers. Arrange on a rimmed serving platter, alternating tomatoes and cucumbers.

Peel and thinly slice shallots. Break shallots into tiny rings and sprinkle over cucumbers and tomatoes.

In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper until well incorporated. Add mustard and whisk again until blended. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Pour dressing over salad, cover and refrigerate for about 1 hour to chill well and let the flavors merge. If making the salad earlier in the day, DO NOT pour dressing over cucumbers until about 1 hour before serving. Allowing the vinegar to seep into cucumbers too early may cause cucumbers to lose their “crisp” snap. 

Refreshing Compressed Watermelon,Tomato and Goat Cheese Salad

IMG_5300Not too long ago, I shared my desire to dine out in a gourmet restaurant while wearing my pajamas. I’ve discovered the next best thing. In our hometown, right on “main” street, there is a lovely little Bistro hidden inside a 100-year-old bungalow. Seating for 30 – not 30 tables, but a total seating capacity for 30 people at a time. That’s it. The place has been there for nearly 10 years, is a 5-star rated restaurant, and is listed as one of the top 100 restaurants in the country. Yeah, surprise! The decor is elegant, yet the patrons arrive in khaki shorts and saddles. The staff is well-trained, slipping in and out and around your table without notice, replacing flatware as it is used, clearing plates and pouring yet another glass of wine in a fresh glass. We began our adventure with Pan-Seared Foie Gras – so tender, so wonderful so perfect. The Filet Mignons were so tender, you could almost eat them with a fork. The reduction sauce was to-die-for delicious. Deserts were a work of art that you could eat. Oh my. And the salad – so cool, so refreshing!

Naturally, I had to try to recreate as much of this awesome experience as possible. The salad is my own interpretation of the salad I had at the Boulevard Bistro. While this salad is close, it’s still a work in progress. Baby steps. That’s how I’ve learned – in baby steps.

Throughout the summer I’d like to prefect this basic Watermelon Salad. Hope you come along for the journey . . .

Compressed Watermelon and Tomato Salad
1 small seedless watermelon
16 small tomatoes, assorted colors
3 oz Goat Cheese, crumbled
4 Basil Leaves, cut into narrow strips
1/4 Cup Balsamic Vinegar
1/4 Teaspoon Fresh Ground Pepper
Sea Salt to taste

Cut one end off the watermelon. (You want to begin working with a watermelon that has a flat; even end). Discard end slice or nibble on it while you work.

Cut round disk from remaining watermelon about 1 inch thick. Remove rind. Using a small shot glass, cut 8 circles from watermelon.

Place circles into a vacuum seal bag. Seal according to manufacturer’s directions.

Cut second round disk from watermelon.  Again, cut 8 small circles from watermelon disk and seal in a vacuum seal bag.

Place vacuum sealed bags into the freezer for at least 3 hours. (Note: if bag is not gently compressing watermelon, place a pie tin on top of bag. Place a bag of frozen vegetables on pie tin to compress watermelon).

Once compressed; remove from freezer and let thaw. Keep chilled in refrigerator. You want the melon crisp-cold but not frozen.

When ready to serve, slice small tomatoes (grape size) in half. Stack fresh basil and roll tightly, creating a cigar-shape. Cut basil width-wise to shred into very narrow strips.

Place four watermelon circles on the center of four well-chilled salad plates.

Place tomato halves around watermelon in a pretty arrangement.

Sprinkle each plate with a little goat cheese. Scatter basil around plate..

Drizzle each salad with a little balsamic vinegar. Season with fresh pepper and a pinch of salt. Serve and enjoy.

California Spaghetti Pasta Salad with Italian Dressing

On Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, my youngest sister invited us over for a day of relaxing, a quite visit and a little barbecue (hot dogs and burgers). Great! I offered to bring a pasta salad. The more I mulled it over; the more I realized the salad I had originally planned – A California Spaghetti Pasta Salad with Italian Dressing might not be the best choice with hot dogs and hamburgers. Burgers and dogs needed a supporting cast that was more in keeping with traditional salad such as Mema’s Macaroni Salad. Still, I wanted to do something different while keeping with that overall flavor of a traditional Macaroni Salad. At the very last-minute (as in while standing in the grocery store) I scrapped the idea of making the California Salad and went with my Hawaiian Macaroni Salad with Spam instead. It’s one I’ve made many times before; but never for my extended family. What tipped the scale? The Hawaiian salad is made with mayonnaise. It was that simple.

Scrapping the California Salad also meant scrapping the post. But wait – I was short a recipe for May, having posted only 28 recipes in 29 days. This beautiful, colorful salad comes from the pages of The Recipe Critic. It would make the perfect side salad for grilled dishes such as Grilled Italian Marinated Chicken Skewers or Grilled Pork Chops with Italian Relish.

California Spaghetti Pasta Salad with Italian Dressing
Spaghetti Salad
1 lb thin spaghetti, broken into 1 inch pieces
1 pint cherry tomatoes, chopped in half
2 medium zucchini, diced
1 large cucumber, diced
1 medium green bell pepper, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 large red onion, diced
2 cans (2-1/4 ounces each) sliced ripe olives, drained
Sea Salt
Black Pepper

Cook the pasta according to package directions.

Drain and rinse in cold water.

Place pasta into a large bowl. Add cherry tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber, green and red bell pepper, red onion and olives. Set aside and make dressing.

Once the dressing is ready, transfer pasta to a large freezer bag. Pour dressing over pasta and lay bag flat in refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

To serve, empty salad into a nice wooden bowl or glass bowl, toss to bring all the colors to the surface. Taste and adjust with a little salt and pepper if desired.

Italian Dressing
1 bottle (16 ounces) Italian salad dressing
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon celery seed
¼ teaspoon garlic powder

Whisk together Italian salad dressing, Parmesan cheese, sesame seeds, paprika, celery seed, and garlic powder. Pour over salad and toss until coated.


Hawaiian Macaroni Salad with Spam

Whenever I tell people I’m making a Hawaiian Macaroni Salad with spaghetti and spam, I always see that same puzzled expression on their faces, usually followed by a very slow, unsure “okay.” I will admit, it is a little different and yet it is usually a big hit. You will always have those hold outs who refuse to see cold spaghetti noodles as anything else except cold spaghetti noodles, not very appealing. The Spam isn’t so much a part of the dish itself as it is a decorative garnish.

Spam is a stable in Hawaiian cooked – served in and with just about anything. The love affair of the Pacific Islands and Spam goes back to World War II. GIs were given Spam as part of their rations. It required no refrigeration, has a long shelf-life and fit nicely into a GI’s pack. During World War II, fifteen million cans of Spam were shipped out to the troops every week. That’s a lot of Spam! Eventually, the salty pressed chopped Ham found its way into the daily diets of the American territories – Guam, Hawaii, the Philippines. Hawaii consumes more Spam than any state in our union. We are talking upward of seven million cans a year. Spam is so popular throughout Hawaii that it’s been nicknamed the “Hawaiian steak” and is even found on the islands’ McDonald’s and Burger King menus. Only in Hawaii can you find the Spam Jam – a celebration of all things Span held the last week in April. While the Spam in this dish is an optional ingredient it is key to the Salad’s connection to Hawaii.

I’ve talked about managing commercial property in the past, and that one of those properties was a food court. Be it because of my love of all things food related or fascination with the restaurant equipment (wooden spoons that could be used to paddle a boat – floor standing mixers that look like home mixers on steroids), I liked hanging out in the commercial kitchens. As a result, many of the owner/chefs eventually became “friends”. Some of my recipes actually came from these hard-working people. My recipe for Hawaiian Macaroni Salad is a great example. It took a while to reduce the recipe to a home version of a salad recipe intended to serve large crowds.

I like to serve this salad alongside my Slow Roasted Kahlua Pig. Both recipes came from the same establishment and were designed to serve together. If you were to do an internet search for Hawaiian Macaroni salad, most of them are similar – using elbow or Macaroni pasta. This recipe uses Spaghetti, setting it somewhat apart from the crowd. I like that.

Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
1 lb Spaghetti Noodles, cooked according to package directions
½ Cup Onion, diced
1 Bunch Green Onions, chopped
2 Carrots, grated
2 Celery Stocks, diced.
4-5 Hard-Boiled eggs
½ Cup Best Foods Mayonnaise (more if needed)
1 Can of Spam, cut into strips (Optional)

Break spaghetti noodles in half and cook noodles according to package directions. Rinse well under cold running water. Drain well.

In a large bowl, combine onions, green onions, carrots and celery. Add spaghetti noodles to vegetables and toss to blend.

Chop all but 1 egg, add to salad. With final egg, cut V lines to create a flower. Reserve one half of flower, chop other half and add to salad. Add mayonnaise and fold to coat all the ingredients.

Transfer macaroni salad to serving bowl, smooth out top for a flat finish. Place egg tulip in center of dish, pressing down lightly to keep tulip in place. Top the finished salad with spam in a spoke-wheel patter from egg. (Note: The Spam is purely optional but a nice touch). Cover and refrigerate for several hours or until well-chilled.

The Pink Stuff

What is it about this simple Jell-O Salad that is so popular? Seems like at every family gathering throughout the summer; someone brings a big bowl of “the pink stuff”. Be it Auntie May or Cousin Mary. When families get together for a pot-luck in warm weather, someone always pipes up with “Oh, and I’ll make the pink stuff.” Or the question is raised “Who’s making the pink stuff?” It’s expected, like Uncle Bob grabbing you in a headlock and rubbing the top of your head or Aunt Virginia kissing everyone and leaving a big, red impression of her lips on your cheek. At the end of summer, the Pink Stuff is gone, only to reappear at the Thanksgiving Table, then poof, gone again.

I like The Pink Stuff. It’s pretty, refreshing and sweet. I’ve never figured out if it should be served with the rest of the meal or saved for later since it’s such a cross-over dish. I wouldn’t consider The Pink Stuff as a salad, and although often served as a side, it’s not the typical side dish either. Yet serve The Pink Stuff as a dessert and everyone will be wondering where’s the cake – the pie – the cookies! The only thing I like better than The Pink Stuff (keeping all things equal, of course) is The Green Stuff aka “Watergate Salad”.

Jell-O Salad – The Pink Stuff
1 Container Cottage Cheese, small curd (16 oz)
1 Box Strawberry Jell-O (3 oz)
1 Container Cool-Whip (8 oz)
1 Can Crushed Pineapples, well drained (16 oz)

Place cottage cheese in desired mold or serving dish. Sprinkle with dry Jell-O.

Fold in cool-whip. Add crushed pineapple.

Chill at least 3 hours or overnight.

You can dress it up or serve it simple – it’s all up to you!