Hearty Salad of White Bean, Broccoli, Spinach, Sprouts and Avocado with Soft Egg and Toasted Cheese Bread

If you are anything like us and you like to eat 3 square meals a day, it tends to be a good idea to throw a salad in the mix once or twice a week.  The other night I came home with just such a meal in mind.  I started with an inventory of the fridge.  I gathered up the remaining vegetables that we had on hand, and along with a few items from the pantry, this is what I put together for our supper tonight.

Hearty Salad of White Bean, Broccoli, Spinach, and Avocado with Soft Egg                            Yields 4 Hearty Portions

  • 4 Cups Spinach
  • 1 Cup of Romaine Lettuce – Washed and Cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 Broccoli Crown – Cut into Small Florets
  • 1/8th Cup of a Red Onion – Finely Diced   
  • Large Handful of Julienned Carrots
  • 1—8 ounce can Cannellini Beans – Rinsed and Drained
  • 1 Avocado – peeled and sliced, drizzled with a squeeze of lime juice.
  • 4 Eggs
  • 1 Can of Tuna – optional

Once I had assembled all of the vegetables I heaped the lettuce and spinach into a medium-sized mixing bowl, began rinsing and chopping the other vegetables, and placed them in the bowl.  At the same time, I started a small saucepan of water heating on the stove to cook the eggs.  When the water came to a boil, I placed 4 eggs in the sauce pan of water, reduced it to a simmer, and set the timer for 6 minutes.  When the bowl seemed to be filled with an ample rainbow of vegetables, I whisked together the ingredients for a spicy and flavorful vinaigrette in a separate bowl. 

Spicy Red Pepper, Honey and Mustard Vinaigrette:

  • 2-3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil – optional: use one or two tablespoons of garlic infused olive oil
  • 3-4 Tablespoons Flavored Vinegar – I used Champagne and Tarragon vinegar
  • 1.5 Tablespoons Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1 Tablespoon Honey
  • 2 Tablespoons Spicy Mustard – I used Kühne, a hot prepared mustard from Germany
  • Course Ground Black Pepper – to taste

While I worked on the salad dressing, Bjorn split several yellow, eggy buns in half and topped them with thinly sliced, reduced fat Colby-Jack Cheese, and then placed the buns on a foil-lined sheet pan in the oven at 350 degrees for a few minutes to melt the cheese.  He also heated a small bowl of leftover spaghetti sauce in the microwave, for dipping the toasted cheese bread.

When the eggs had cooked 6 minutes, I removed two for our supper and carefully peeled them.  I let the remaining eggs continue to cook a few minutes longer so that they would be hard-boiled, making them easier to pack for our lunches tomorrow. 

I drizzled the dressing over the bowl of salad, tossed the salad gently with tongs, and served it on a platter.  I placed the avocado slices on top, and gently sliced the eggs just before serving to expose the warm, soft yellow yolk.  I’m seeing “soft eggs” everywhere, in blogs, such as this tasty-looking and classic presentation on Smitten Kitchen, in magazines and in restaurants on bruschetta, pizza, and salads.  Talk about having a classic food item go trendy!  I’m all for it though, eggs are a versatile, simple yet exquisite food.  Bjorn added about half of a can of tuna to his plate, and mixed it into the salad.  Adding tuna to the omnivore version of this salad added protein and healthy omega 3 fatty acid, a heart-healthy fat.  The Avocado and the Extra Virgin Olive Oil in the dressing also added heart healthy fats to both of our plates.

The spinach, romaine, sprouts, carrots and broccoli gave the salad a nice crunch and were full of antioxidants, calcium and potassium.  The white beans and egg added a contrasting soft texture to the salad, and protein which made the salad a hearty meal.  The vinaigrette had a pleasant kick of dijony, red-pepper heat, and set off the flavors of the soft egg, avocado and red onion.  The toasted cheese bread made a yummy side dish dipped in the warm spaghetti sauce.  We enjoyed it all.

The salad was huge and made plenty for two servings at supper time, two servings for lunch the next day with a little more to spare.  The salad was hearty enough to be a satisfying, complete meal, and had a healthy rainbow of veggies, good sources of protein and healthy fats to make it a nourishing meal, nutritionally speaking.  It is wonderful to toss together a variety of vegetables and pantry staples into a salad.  It makes for a simple, healthy and satisfying supper that makes you feel good, and that you can feel good about eating.  Give it a try!

Hot and Cold Mac and Cheese Salad

A cacophony in the kitchen that sung in harmony on the plate.

Sometimes I come up with odd combinations of foods for us to eat for supper.  Tonight was one of those nights.  I came home with the idea of making macaroni and cheese. I didn’t want to eat a huge portion, but I didn’t want to go hungry with a tiny plate of pasta.  We happen to have a fridge full of veggies and I wanted a salad that was satisfying enough to be a meal.  I also wanted roasted veggies.  These ideas danced in my head for awhile, and an idea emerged — I will make a salad, Mac & Cheese and roasted veggies and put them into the salad rather than serving the three separate things side-by-side.  Obviously, pasta tossed into a salad is nothing new, I make this constantly in the summer for our back yard BBQ’s.  I recently read a blog post about a tasty salad combination of Penne, Chickpeas, Sun-dried Tomatoes and baby Arugula on Skinnytaste which looks pretty good.  I know I’ve heard mention of hot and cold salads.  When Bjorn gave me a thumbs up to having a sort-of salad for supper, away I went.

I started by breaking off florets of broccoli and cauliflower to roast for the “hot” part of the salad.  I tried to picture the amount I would want for 4 servings of salad so that I didn’t make too much.  My goal is to prepare enough to feed us twice.  Two plates at supper and then leftovers for lunch.

I dumped the broccoli and cauliflower, along with some sliced button mushrooms on a sheet pan coated with cooking spray, and threw it in the oven, which was heated to 425 degree Fahrenheit.  I didn’t add any oil to the veggies.  A drizzle of olive oil tastes great on roasted veggies, but I was planning to dress the salad before serving, so I didn’t use any.  It really isn’t necessary.
When you roast veggies without oil, they tend to char a little more than when they are tossed lightly in oil.  That char is tasty.
While the veggies roasted, I put a small saucepan of water on the stove to heat, and salted it lightly.  While that heated, I chopped a half of a red pepper into chickpea-sized chunks, and rinsed and drained a can of chickpeas.

I assembled an assortment of greens.  We had a great variety in the fridge.  Our salad tonight had baby spinach, Butter and Romaine Lettuce and Pea Shoots.  When the Broccoli, Cauliflower and Mushrooms had roasted for about 8 minutes I used tongs to toss it around so that all sides would get exposed to heat.  I also added a few handfuls of whole grain pasta shells to the saucepan of salted water to cook until al dente, according to the package directions.

While the pasta cooked and the vegetables roasted, I began assembling the cold portions of the salad:  two on plates for dinner tonight, and two in portable containers for our lunches tomorrow at work.  I whisked a little balsamic vinegar with olive oil, and added a healthy pinch of red pepper flakes and a good shake of Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salut to dress the salad.

When the pasta was done cooking, I stirred in a spoonful of light cream cheese, a small handful of grated sharp cheddar, and a shake of nutmeg.  I didn’t go to the effort of making a cheesy roux for the Mac & Cheese.  I just tossed the cooked pasta with the cheese.  The cheese melted and coated the noodles nicely.  It was easier to make this way, and actually better to have the pasta coated in cheese, rather than a creamy sauce, since I was planning to toss it into the salad.

I divided the roasted vegetables between our plates and two small containers for our lunch.  I dressed the two plates of salad for our supper lightly and tossed them before adding the mac and cheese, since I didn’t want too much dressing on the pasta part of the salad.  If I hadn’t been saving half of the salad for our lunch, I would have tossed the hot and cold vegetables with dressing in a bowl before placing in it on our plates.

I happened to use all of my homemade dressing up on our dinner portion, so I packed a small container of Trader Joe’s Light Champagne Vinaigrette* to take to work.  I added a pinch of red pepper flakes and some grated Asiago so that the salads would still have a good flavor even without the balsamic vinaigrette that we had at supper.

Once our plates were assembled, we charged to the dinner table and dug in.  I put out a nice chunk of Asiago cheese and a grater, salt and pepper for us to adjust the flavor at the table.  A Hot and Cold Mac and Cheese Salad might sound a bit of an off the wall, but it was great.  The balsamic vinegar and spicy red pepper flakes were a punchy contrast to the warm, cheesy pasta.  The variety of colours was visually appealing.  The crunchy lettuce and red pepper contrasted with the soft noodles and chickpeas.  The roasted vegetables added warmth and charred flavor, and were roasted perfectly to retain their bite.  Chopping, assembling, roasting, boiling, dressing and stirring together three different dishes raised a mild cacophony in the kitchen, that sung in harmony on the plate.  I started with three ideas, and ended up with a meal that satisfied a hunger for Mac & Cheese, but kept the portion size reasonable, it was a plate packed with antioxidants and vitamins as well as great flavor and texture contrasts.  We’ll make it again!

*Trader Joe’s Light Champagne Vinaigrette is my current grocery store salad dressing favorite.  It contains champagne vinegar, white wine, Worcestershire sauce, and Dijon mustard, and clocks in at 50 calories for two tablespoons.  It is light and zingy, and it is a legit way to have some bubbly at noon.

White Bean, Corn and Potato Chowder

It is a good indication that we are getting pretty low on groceries and fresh produce when I decide what is for dinner by googling the few ingredients we have left to find an idea.  Tonight, I poked around the kitchen and found a can of white beans, a potato, and a half a bag of frozen corn to work with.  Those three ingredients sounded like a good base for a soup.  I wasn’t feeling like a chunky Tuscan White Bean Stew, or a creamy Rosemary White Bean Soup even though they looked tasty. We didn’t have half the ingredients for this luscious looking Corn Chowder with Chilies by Pioneer Woman and we wanted something lighter.  As far as I can remember, I don’t think I’ve ever combined white beans, corn and potato in one pot, but it seemed like these 3 pale, starchy comforters had to go together.  I thought “there must be a recipe for this white bean, corn and potato chowder!”  I immediately found two, fairly similar recipes that sounded tasty, [here and here].  I took cues from both recipes, made a few adjustments of my own and ended up with a soup that was healthy and warming that we both enjoyed.  First, I assembled my ingredients.

I think it is a good sign about a recipe when the ingredient list is short.  For one thing, in a simple recipe each ingredient plays a vital role in the dish as a whole.  There is also a better chance that your pantry and fridge will contain what you need so you don’t have to run to the store.  Most importantly you won’t have to pull out your hair trying to follow a complicated recipe or spend your evening chopping and measuring a zillion ingredients.  My White Bean, Corn and Potato Chowder contained:

  • One cup of Frozen Corn.
  • 1 16 ounce can of Cannellini Beans.  – I happened to have a large can of beans so I used it, but you’d be fine with a 14 ounce can.  If you are up for preparing dry beans, which sadly, I am not, you should use about 1 cup of dry beans, soaked and cooked in water until tender.
  • 1 Yukon Gold Potato washed and chopped.
  • 1/2 of a yellow onion, diced.
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced — I ended up using only one carrot, even though my photo contains two.
  • 1 stalk of celery, chopped.  –I didn’t have any celery, but normally, I would include it.  Diced Onions, Carrots and Celery, or a mirepoix if you are cooking in French, makes a solid aromatic base for almost any soup or sauce.
  • 1 four cup carton of Reduced Sodium Chicken Broth or Vegetable Broth.
  • For Garnish:  1 thinly sliced green onion and coarsely chopped flat leaf Italian parsley  are both optional, but good.
  • About 1/2 a teaspoon each of crushed dried Rosemary, and dry Thyme.
  • A splash of skim milk, or half and half, or heavy cream, depending what fits into your diet.
  • A small amount of Olive Oil for sautéing the veggies.
  • Salt and Pepper to taste.

We have 2 people eating in our house most nights, so I try to cut soup recipes down to 4 portions, so that we each get to have a hearty bowl for supper and a smaller bowl for lunch the next day.  It took me two years to figure out that I need to cut down most recipes.  Having a few frozen portions is great for lunches at work or an easy supper, but a freezer can fill up fast in the winter when I feel like making a new pot of soup a few times per week.  If you have a bigger head count, or feel like stockpiling soup for lunches and lazy days, you can easily double or triple this recipe.

Once I had all of the veggies for the chowder chopped, I began by sautéing the onion and carrots.  I rinsed the cannellini beans, and mashed about half of them on a cutting board with a potato masher.  I did this for several reasons.  Since I wanted the chowder to be light and healthy I decided not to use half and half or cream in my chowder which are traditional chowder ingredients.  Mashed white beans added velvety texture to the soup liquid that it would otherwise lack without cream.  I used a potato masher because I don’t have an immersion blender* and lugging out the blender or food processor to puree half of the soup is far too much effort for me on a Tuesday night.  The potato masher works quite well to create a rustic creaminess and it cuts down on dish washing which is also a plus.  When the carrots and onions began to get soft in my enamel dutch oven, I added the rest of the ingredients except the milk and garnishes.  I let the soup simmer for a good half hour to 40 minutes.  This gave me time to set the table, check Facebook and chop up some grape tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and leaves of romaine lettuce for a small salad, along the lines of a caprese, minus basil.  I dressed the salad with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salut herb mixture.  Once the chowder was hot and all the flavors combined, I removed the pot from the heat.  I mashed the entire mixture of veggies little a more with the potato masher right in the soup pot to allow the carrots, corn and potatoes to add body to the liquid in the chowder.  Right before serving the chowder I stirred in a splash of milk.  I served the chowder in a small bowl with the salad on the side of the plate.

On top of Bjorn’s salad I added a few this slices of Sopprasetta, a dried, cured Italian salami.

We loved this chowder.  It was warm and satisfying, but still light and healthy.  It will reheat well for our lunch, and we will able to eat the whole pot in two meals.  This meal made good use of the last few vegetables in the house.  Even if my fridge is fully stocked, I’d make it again.

* An immersion blender might be a good gift idea, hint, hint.  

Taco Soup for the Superbowl

If you are ready to take a break from Chili, Chicken Wings or Pizza as your Superbowl staple next year, you might want to try Taco Soup.   I made a crock this year and it was tasty, and so easy.  This is a meal that you can easily adapt for omnivores as well as the vegetarians in your crowd.  You can make this meal and have time to enjoy your day if you are capable of visiting the grocery store and using a can opener.  The ingredients pictured below include Two 14 ounce cans of Stewed Tomatoes, Two 14 ounce cans of Diced Tomatoes, One small can of chopped green chilies, One 14 ounce can of Pinto Beans (I used Chili Beans which are seasoned Pinto Beans), One 14 ounce can of Kidney Beans and One 14 ounce can of Golden Hominy, which you can find in the grocery store near the canned beans.

Not pictured:

  • One medium yellow onion, chopped and sautéed;
  • An envelope of low sodium Taco Seasoning or your favorite homemade mix of spicy seasonings, mixed according to preference, which should probably include, Cumin, Mexican Chili Powder, Paprika, Cayenne Pepper, Oregano, Salt and Pepper.
  • An envelope of Hidden Valley Buttermilk Ranch Dressing or onion powder, dry dill, and a shot of low-fat Buttermilk, added 10 minutes before serving;
  • 1 pound of ground beef, browned for the omnivore-version; and
  • If you wish, you can add Vegetarian taco crumbles, prepared according to package directions for the vegetarian version.  If you do opt for Vegetarian Taco crumbles, I like Taco Filling by Fantastic Foods.

I put everything into the crock except for the meat, and set the heat to high because game time was only a few hours away.  You can make this on the stove in your favorite soup pan or dutch oven just as successfully as the crock pot, but I love the “fix it and forget it” aspect of cooking in the crock pot.  After the beans, hominy, seasonings and onions had a good hour and a half to get warm and combined, I ladled a vegetarian portion into a separate sauce pan and put it in the fridge.  I recommend giving the ground beef version more time in the crock, and separating out the veggie version into a separate pan as needed.  The beef needs time to gather up the flavors in the pot, and is less likely to get dried out than the vegetarian version.  Next, I added the browned ground beef to the crock.  Then, all I had to do was keep the crock cooking until game time, which gave the flavors time to combine.  This is where certain celebrity chefs who regularly appear on the Food Network who will remain unnamed would say that constant heat and time will allow the flavors to “marry.”  I like the thought of distinct ingredients of a the soup spending time together, falling in love and then hanging out long enough to allow the distinct characteristics of each element to meld together and become a unified as a whole.  But the Food Network has overworked the marriage of flavors descriptor a tad, so I’m trying to leave it on the shelf for now so that perhaps someday, that term can be revived into common use.

When it was close to game time, I took the saucepan of vegetarian Taco Soup out of the fridge and reheated it on the stove over medium heat.  This is where the fun part of taco soup comes in:  the toppings.  I assembled a small array of some of our favorite taco toppings to serve along with the soup.  Today we had shredded lettuce, crumbled corn tostadas, sliced jalapenos, light sour cream, shredded cheese, sliced black olives and radishes.  Avocado, diced cucumber, chopped green onions or diced red onion and pepitos would also be great toppings for Taco Soup.  Scoop chips are great for scooping up the soup and toppings from your bowl, regular tortilla chips or crackers would also be great to serve with the soup.

I served the soup in wide, shallow bowls.  I wanted there to be enough surface space for us to add toppings.  We each topped our bowl of soup the way we wanted, and then headed to the couch for kickoff.

Taco soup was the main dish for us on Superbowl Sunday, but it would also work well at a potluck, served in smaller bowls or cups.  Also, you sure don’t have to have an important sporting event on TV to make this for supper.  As a dish for the Superbowl, it is essential that you can eat it while seated on the couch.  I will report that the shallow bowls were a good call because they did, in fact allow us to top the soup generously without making a mess, and the soup is thick enough to work just fine even with an ottoman as a dinner table.

This soup works because once you bring the crock pot and the right cans into the kitchen, it practically makes itself.  It is hearty, and the toppings add variety and make for a fun and casual meal.  Taco Soup also reheats wonderfully, so we both had a delicious bowl today for lunch.  If it sounds good to you, give it a whirl!

A Vibrant Quinoa Salad for a Dark Winter’s Day

Some days there is nothing more refreshing and satisfying than having a hearty salad as a meal.  A salad can be extremely handy too, when it is built to last so that it can reappear the next day as our lunch.  That is the sort of meal I had in mind today.  The salad I made was loosely based on a recipe for a Wheatberry Salad that I read about on Macheesmo, a blog I like to visit.  I’ve been trying to follow more recipes because I want well-developed flavors and predictable results when I cook.  Even though I’m trying to follow recipes, I still have to strike a balance.  I am not one to plan meals in advance, and I don’t like to run to the store when I decide to make something.  I began by gathering ingredients.

In my salad, I subbed Quinoa for Wheatberry.  I’ve glanced at a bag of Wheatberry in the grocery store, but haven’t purchased that grain so far.  I am still working on integrating Quinoa into my regular cooking routine.  I also subbed fresh spinach for kale, and half a block of drained and crumbled tofu for feta cheese.  We’ve been working our way through a bag of organic parsnips from the Farmer’s Market that we bought at Thanksgiving, so I decided to add a few.  I started cooking 1 1/2 cup of quinoa in an equal amount of water, and while the quinoa cooked, I chopped the vegetables into small, uniform chunks.  They say you eat with your eyes first; the vibrant rainbow of crunchy vegetables chopped for this salad was a visual feast.

The salad is dressed with the juice of a lemon, the lemon’s zest, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.  It gives the salad a lot of kick with zero added fat.  Healthy!!  The lemon juice has the added benefit of keeping the avocado from turning brown.  If I make this again, I will cut back on the lemon zest a little bit.  The zest of a lemon is pretty punchy, especially when you eliminate a creamy dairy component which was included in the original recipe.

Did we notice the substitutions I made to the original recipe?  A little.  Crumbled tofu has a similar texture to feta cheese, but it lacks the tang.  There is also a certain creaminess that feta would add, which would also probably help balance the pungent citrus in the salad.  Neither of us are huge fans of feta, and so it was a fair swap to make, and healthy too.   I am all for subbing spinach for the kale called for in the original recipe.  I have yet to delve into kale, and I love how easy it is to add a big bunch of fresh spinach to almost anything you are cooking and allow it to steam in just a few minutes.  We both enjoyed the salad with a dash of Habenero Chili hot sauce that we brought back from Mexico.

This salad was a success for several reasons.  It contained an antioxidant rainbow of healthy vegetables.  It also contained the healthy fat found in avocado.  The texture was the best part of the salad; it had crunchy carrots, celery, onions, parsnips, peppers which balanced well with the creamy avocado, supple quinoa, tofu and tender steamed spinach.  There was plenty of kicky flavour without any regret with the spicy-citrus dressing.  It was also a win from a vegetarian-protein perspective since it contained both tofu and chickpeas. All in all, it was a light, uplifting, healthy and hearty entrée salad that hit all of the important notes that it needed to pick us up on a grey day in January.  Yes!!

Bjorn said the salad was tastier than he expected, and we both ate it again the next day.  For me, it was both breakfast and lunch.  I need to make a crunchy, kicky, creamy, low-fat, high flavor, protein-rich salad more often.