cucumber peanut salad

Labor Day weekend is fast approaching and we’re having guests for dinner, so I’m experimenting with some new salads.  This one hit the spot.  It’s picnic or barbecue  perfect, has great flavor, texture, appearance, and goes together super fast.  The original recipe called for an English Cucumber, but the ones in the store were so enormous I opted for a package of mini cucumbers, instead.  I actually think they were more colorful, too; the green being brighter and more cheerful.  Because a cheerful salad is a delicious salad, right?

Adapt as you please.  With the exception of the delicious dressing (lime juice and a little brown sugar) this isn’t one of those stuffy recipes where a minor change will make any difference in the finished product.  Enjoy…and have a safe and enjoyable Labor Day weekend.

2013-08-26

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Cucumber Peanut Salad (recipe courtesy Cooking Light, July 2013)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups thinly sliced English cucumber
  • 1/2 cup vertically sliced red onion
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts

Directions:

  1. Combine cucumber, onion, lime juice, brown sugar, and salt in a medium bowl; toss to coat. Sprinkle evenly with peanuts.
  2. Step 2?  There is no Step 2.  So easy.  Serve and enjoy!

Serves four.

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***Cook’s Notes:  The peanuts make this a salad you either have to finish the day you make it, or eat any leftovers within a day.  They don’t hold up well refrigerated and stored in the dressing.  So eat it all up, or make sure you eat the remaining salad within 24 hours.

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fruit salad with honey-lemon dressing

I have  a tendency to resort to “old favorites,” for holiday meals or picnics.   So I generally whip together this easy, delicious little number for summer festivities.  I have…for years.  I know, I know, how culinarily unchallenged can I be?  Mostly, I suppose, I’m a creature of habit, I know what people my kid  will eat and enjoy, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Yup!   But I was surfing around on Pinterest just before the 4th of July and found this sweet variation on fruit salad; the one side dish every barbecue should offer for those of us who find mayo-based pasta salads and potato salads a bit too heavy for a summer picnic.  Let there be fruit!

Like all fruit salads, there isn’t really a recipe.  If you don’t follow the ingredient list strictly, you’ll still end up with a perfectly delicious fruit salad regardless of which fruits you select.  The key here, in my opinion, is the dressing.  Honey and lemon define simplicity.  They’re  diverse flavors; the sweet and tangy being a perfect complement to any fruit.  Serving it inside the hollowed out watermelon rind is just a fun way to make a visual statement at your holiday picnic, but serve it any way you like.  That’s the beauty of fruit.  Have it your way.  Enjoy!

2013-07-04

Fruit Salad w/Honey-Lemon Dressing (recipe courtesy Honey and Figs Kitchen)

Fruit Ingredients:

  • 1/2 seedless watermelon, scooped with melon baller
  • 1/2 honeydew melon, scooped with melon baller
  • 3 kiwis, peeled and chopped
  • 1 c sweet cherries, pitted and halved
Dressing Ingredients:
  • 3 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 to 3 Tbsp honey (taste test as you go for sweetness)
  • 2 Tbsp limoncello, optional

Directions:

Whisk together honey and lemon until honey is dissolved.  Refrigerate until you’re ready to use.  Next, half the melons and remove fruit with melon baller.  Place watermelon and honeydew melon into medium-sized bowl.  Add sliced kiwi fruit and cherries.  Mix gently to combine the fruit.
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Clean out the excess melon from the watermelon rind to create your serving bowl.  Return prepared fruit to the empty watermelon rind.  Drizzle with honey-lemon dressing just before serving.
saladprep©zouptonuts

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simply egg salad sandwiches

Summer is upon us.  I’m giving myself permission to publish nothing but recipes containing the word “salad” from now until October!!!  I probably won’t, but today, with the temperature currently hovering about 106°, it’s tempting.  Salad is a cool word.  It doesn’t have the same heavy, sweat-on-your-neck connotations as, say, casserole.  I don’t know about you, but I felt infinitely more sweaty (sweatier?) typing “casserole” than I did typing “salad.”  Even in my climatically controlled office space.

On top of that, last weekend I was out of yogurt but didn’t feel like succumbing to peanut butter and jelly for lunch.  I did have, fortuitously, a couple of hard-boiled eggs.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Egg salad is one of those catch as catch can kind of foods.  You make of it what you will with whatever ingredients you can gather from the fridge.  There are no rules.  If it sounds good, add it.  It’s summer.  It’s hot outside (at least here in the desert southwest).  Throw caution to the 106° wind.  Enjoy!

2013-06-01

Simple Egg Salad Sandwiches (recipe adapted from Eat, Live, Run)

Ingredients:

  • 4 eggs, hard-boiled
  • 2 Tbsp mayonnaise (I used reduced fat mayo with olive oil)
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp stone ground mustard
  • 1 stalk celery, rinsed, trimmed, and diced
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Mash eggs with a fork and add remaining ingredients. Chill in fridge or spread on whole grain bread with sliced onion and lettuce. Enjoy!

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Cook’s Notes:  I halved the recipe because I only wanted a half sandwich and gave the other half to the husband.  The recipe, as written, makes enough for two sandwiches.  Increase ingredients accordingly depending on how many mouths you need to feed or how much you want left over for tomorrow’s lunch.

mom’s [shake shake shake] potato salad with dill

So, this is one of those recipe-less recipes; the type of which I’m not so fond because I’m a direction-taker.  I like my recipes mapped out like a well-worn road atlas.  Improv gives me cold sweats.  Not that I haven’t occasionally had to cobble together a meal with the handful of unexpired ingredients in my refrigerator, but…a list of ingredients and their corresponding quantities makes me feel so much more competent in the kitchen.

My mom got this recipe from an old next door neighbor several many years ago.  I’m assuming our neighbor gave her the recipe the same way she gave it to me.  There is no written version, apparently, so I’ll share with you, verbatim, how my mom taught me to make it:

Mom:  I use a 1:1:1 ratio, eggs to potatoes to people, and then I add an extra egg.  I like a little more egg.

Me:  How about the seasonings?

Mom:  Well, I don’t really measure them.  It’s more like, potato, egg, dollop of dressing, salt, shake shake shake, pepper, shake shake shake, dill, shake shake shake.  Mix.  Potato, egg, dollop of dressing, salt, shake shake shake, pepper, shake shake shake, dill, shake shake shake.

Me:  {Sigh}

And that’s it.  Shake.  Shake.  Shake.  This potato salad is left entirely to your own whim as to more or less dressing, more or less salt, more or less….well, you get it.  It’s the potato salad that spawned my love for potato salad (at least this one), and is at the top of the request list when warm(er) weather rolls around.  It’s picnic-friendly, perfect for block party BBQs, or holiday weekend festivities (hint, hint, Memorial Day is right around the corner).  Grill some burgers, hotdogs, steaks…whatever.  This salad is the perfect complement.  Enjoy!

2013-05-04

2013-05-042

Mom’s [shake shake shake] Potato Salad with Dill

Ingredients:

  • 6 potatoes, cooked and peeled
  • 7 eggs, hard-boiled
  • Miracle Whip (I use light or low fat variety), to taste and texture
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste
  • Dill, dried, to taste

Directions:

Boil potatoes, skins on, until a little less than fork tender.  Remove from water, cool completely.  At the same time, cook eggs until hard-boiled, remove from heat, cool completely.  When potatoes are fully cooled, remove skins.  Peel and wash eggs.

In medium bowl, cut one potato into one inch (bite sized pieces).  Slice one egg into bite sized pieces, as well.  Spoon in about two heaping tablespoons of Miracle Whip.  Add salt, pepper, and dried dill weed to taste.  Mix gently until well combined.  Repeat process with remaining potatoes and eggs.

Keep refrigerated until you’re ready to serve.

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italian basil pasta salad

This post really needs to start with a confession:  I did not make this dish.  I bought the ingredients, but I had absolutely nothing to do with the assembly.  Not that I don’t want to take credit for it.  It was superb.  But I was off-duty enjoying a lovely, chore-free Mother’s Day.  The husband and the world’s greatest kid put this together as part of a truly relaxing, enjoyable day for moi!  No cooking, no dishes, re-fills on wine, plentiful hugs.  It was all good!

Including this pasta salad, which should go on every picnic menu you put together from now until you can’t eat another pickled banana pepper.  It deviated wonderfully from the all-too-predictable pasta salad of  yesteryear: tomatoes, broccoli, green onions, yada yada yada, slathered in Kraft Italian Dressing.  Don’t make that one again.  Make this one.  Great flavors from sweet to savory, great textures from crisp and crunchy to smooth and creamy.  When I tried it, Kat asked what I thought and I blurted out, “It’s like a fiesta in your mouth!”  I’ll probably regret that later, but at the time it caused endless giggles and was a spot on description.

Let the fiesta begin.  Enjoy!

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Italian Basil Pasta Salad (recipe adapted from Taste of Home)

Ingredients:

  • 1 package (16 oz) bow tie pasta
  • 2 c grape tomatoes
  • 7 oz mozzarella cheese pearls, halved
  • 1 medium sweet yellow pepper, diced
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1/2 c pickled banana pepper rings, diced
  • 1 can (2 1/4 oz) sliced ripe olives, drained (the husband used capers)
  • 4 thin slices hard salami, chopped
  • 1/2 c fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced

Dressing:

  • 3/4 c olive oil
  • 3/4 c red wine vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp dried basil

Directions:

  • Cook pasta according to package directions; drain and rinse in cold water. In a large bowl, combine the pasta, tomatoes, cheese, yellow pepper, onion, pepper rings, olives (or, capers, if you’re so inclined), salami and basil.
  • In a small bowl, whisk the dressing ingredients. Pour over salad and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.

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Cook’s Notes:  Make this a day ahead if you can, to let the flavors really come together.

pulled pork bbq (slow cooker style)

Can you ever get enough pulled pork?  I think not.

A friend gave  me this recipe a while back and I hadn’t made it for fear of being accused of being on some strange shredded meat binge.  Finally, the temptation was too great and I gave in, even though I had made shredded something-or-other fairly recently.  But it’s about the easiest recipe ever written and I was in an “I don’t want feel like lingering over dinner” kind of mood.  Four ingredients, people.  Four ingredients and that’s about all the lingering over dinner you’ll need to do.  I always feel like there’s some kitchen fairy magic going on with these meals.  Ingredients in, lid on, twelve hours later, dinner is served.

I’ve seen various recipes like this one calling for the addition of a carbonated beverage.  Does anyone know why?  Honestly, I’m not sure what the added benefit might be, because I think the meat really gets it flavor from the onions and whatever spectacular bbq sauce you choose.  So, if anyone can offer any hints as to why soda of any kind is frequently seen in slow cooker recipes like this, I’d love to know.  The finished product had absolutely no Ginger Ale overtones, whatsoever.

We always top our shredded meat with coleslaw.  We’re quirky that way.  Feel free to do the same, or just slather in more saucy deliciousness.  Enjoy!

2013-03-12

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Pulled Pork BBQ

Ingredients:

  • 4 lbs pork roast (shoulder or butt)
  • 2 large onions
  • 1 cup ginger ale
  • 1 (18 ounce) bottle favorite barbecue sauce (I like Sweet Baby Ray’s) barbecue sauce, for serving (optional)

Directions:

  • Slice one onion and place in crock pot.
  • Put in the roast and cover with the other onion, sliced. Pour over the ginger ale. Cover and cook on LOW for about 12 hours.
  • Remove the meat, strain and save the onions, discard all liquid. With two forks, shred the meat, discarding any remaining fat, bones or skin.
  • Return the shredded meat and the onions to the crock pot and stir in the barbecue sauce. Continue to cook for about another 2 hours on LOW.
  • Serve with hardy rolls and additional barbecue sauce. Any leftovers freeze very well.

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Cook’s Notes:  Shoulder or butt are recommended because the meat shreds very well.  It is a fattier cut, but the fat pretty much falls away after cooking and is easily removed from the crock pot before shredding.  Also,  the original recipe cooked for 12 hours the first round, and another 4 to 6 after straining, shredding, and adding the sauce.  I think mine would have been cooked to mush by that point.  Another 2 hours to let the flavors develop was plenty for us.  Also, the original recipe gave a tip on how to freeze ready-made sandwiches.  Personally, that just sounds disgusting.  I can only envision a soggy pile of goo coming out of the microwave upon re-heating.  My preference is to keep the meat and bread separate until I’m ready to eat.  Most importantly (as with any shredded meat sandwich where sauce or coleslaw is involved), make sure your sandwich buns can stand up to all that moisture.  I noted to serve with “hardy rolls” in the directions above, and I can’t emphasize that enough.  Unless you don’t mind eating your pulled pork with a fork.  In which case you can simply call this recipe pork-on-a-fork!

strawberry hand pies

We surprised my husband with a picnic dinner at one of our favorite parks the other night, which was a total blast and Kat had such a great time preparing for the “big surprise.”  We’d been texting back and forth with him late in the day to get an idea when he’d be home.  When he gave us the 20 minute warning, we taped a clue note to the laundry room door and set off for the park.  Once there, we tucked another clue note under my windshield wiper (presupposing he’d find the car with the clues we provided).  Fortunately, he’s a pretty bright guy.  Had he been a little slower on the uptake, he might have missed these little lovelies I’d baked for dessert!

I had a really busy day on Wednesday, so I didn’t have time to shoot the entire prep of the pies.  Needless to say, there was some finger licking and cursing – inwardly, of course, because working with any kind of pastry dough turns me into a bit of a lunatic.  You could use any berry you’d like, but since strawberries are coming in to season, I stuck with those.

The pies turned out beautifully and made the perfect picnic dessert.  No dishes or cutlery required.  Enjoy!!

2013-03-26

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In spite of my cursing, they were a hit.

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Strawberry Hand Pies (recipe courtesy Country Living)

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/3 cup(s) (plus more for dusting) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon(s) baking powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon(s) salt
  • 1 stick(s) cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon(s) vanilla extract
  • 3/4 pound(s) fresh strawberries, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup(s) confectioners’ sugar
  • 3 tablespoon(s) strawberry jam (I used Smucker’s Simply Fruit)
  • 1 tablespoon(s) sanding sugar

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine 2 1/4 cups flour, baking powder, and 1 teaspoon salt. Using a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut butter into flour mixture until mixture resembles coarse sand. Add 1 egg yolk, 1/2 cup chilled water, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and mix until just combined. (If dough is dry or crumbly and doesn’t stay together, add up to 3 tablespoons more chilled water.) Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and knead 2 to 3 times, just until dough comes together. Return dough to bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until chilled, about 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, make filling: In a medium bowl, combine strawberries, confectioners’ sugar, and jam, plus remaining flour, vanilla, and salt. Set aside.
  • In a small bowl, beat remaining yolk and 1 tablespoon water for egg wash; set aside. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/2-inch thickness. Using a 3-inch round cookie cutter, cut dough into 6 rounds.
  • Roll 1 round into a 6-inch circle. Spoon a heaping 2 tablespoons filling onto half of circle, leaving 1/2-inch border. Brush the edges with egg wash, then fold dough over filling. Using a fork, crimp the edges to seal hand pie. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking pan. Repeat with remaining dough rounds and filling.
  • Using a toothpick, poke a few holes in the top of each pie. Brush with remaining egg wash and sprinkle each pie with 1/2 teaspoon sanding sugar. Bake until golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

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Baker’s Notes:  The berry mixture only makes enough for six pies, but I had pastry dough enough to re-roll and make five more.  Adapt the berry recipe accordingly if you want to make more pies.  I froze my dough for another day.  Also, the recipe instructs you to make the berry mixture ahead and then set aside.  Because I had so much to do that day, I made the berry mixture too far ahead, which caused the berries to create a lot more juice.  So make it ahead, but only as long as it takes you to mix and roll the dough, otherwise you end up with a lot of fruit juice loss in the baking.  Lastly, as with any pastry, make sure your water is icy cold!