Mission: Possible

Note the deep yellow hues in the field. Autumn is coming.

Note the deep yellow hues in the field. Autumn is coming.

No Meat

No Seafood

No Gluten

No Dairy

I’ve found myself being invited to a lot of potlucks this summer. In these days of food sensitivities, cooking for a crowd has become a bit more challenging than it used to be; no longer can I make a quick pasta salad with pieces of meat and cheese. I put a lot of thought into what I make so I’m sure everyone can have a helping; now, whether people eat it is another story, but at least I’ve attempted to offer a dish that can be eaten by all. The Eater of the House has noted through the years that while I make a healthy dish to share, that sometimes they aren’t that appealing. Hence the bean salads I’ve brought home because no one wanted them. (Insert sad face.)

The above was the list for the latest dinner party I attended. I fretted for days over what to make; every time I thought of something, it had one of the ingredients not to include. Cucumbers and tomatoes are in season right now, so I thought of an easy caprese salad, but I couldn’t use mozzarella. Then I thought of my cucumber salad, but I couldn’t use the sour cream. But what if I combined the cucumbers and tomatoes with other ingredients? With some leftover beans I defrosted in the freezer, I was well on my way!

This a terrific base-line salad, in that you can take the original recipe and add what you’d like to it: leftover chicken, salmon, or shrimp; feta cheese; even pasta all would be good additions to this, making it an entrée. Also herbs! I wanted to add some fresh basil, but didn’t have any, but I know that would add great flavor, or chives, mint, or dill. Try different veggies–crunchy red peppers, celery, kohlrabi would be delicious. The reason for the corn was I had one ear left in the vegetable bin, but I wish I had more. (And that ingredient is totally optional!) For the dressing, I used red wine vinegar, but another flavored vinegar or even lemon would be great. I measured it by the capful until I got the right acidity that I liked.

But best of all, the salad fit the bill and is relatively low in calories! And this time, I brought home an empty bowl! (Insert happy face!)

salad2
Cucumber and Tomato Salad with Chickpeas

Both tomatoes and cucumbers are water-filled vegetables, so I seed them as much as possible to avoid a soppy salad. To seed the tomatoes, I cut them into fourths and just remove a bit of the seeds before dicing.

1 can of chickpeas, or about 2 cups
2 large tomatoes, seeded and diced
3 cups cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and chopped into large chunks
The kernels from one ear of corn (optional)
4 radishes, sliced thinly
A couple of tablespoons of scallions
Olive oil and red wine vinegar, to taste (a few teaspoons each)
Salt and pepper

Add all of the ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Add the oil and vinegar and toss gently.

MVK’s Endorsement of the Week: Nutritional Weight and Wellness, Minnesota

A few years ago I discovered the podcast, “Weight and Wellness,” produced by the nutritionists at Nutritional Weight and Wellness, http://www.weightandwellness.com/ which has locations surrounding the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Each week, they tackle a subject where nutrition can help you solve your physical ailments, from aching joints, menopause symptoms, anxiety and depression, and the list goes on. I always walk away with a list of tips and recipes.

Their website is a fountain of nutritional information and resources and they have four online classes you can take!  http://www.weightandwellness.com/services/online-classes/. I have yet to take one, but I plan to in the near future!

Summertime and the Cooking is Easy

morningWith all due respect to George Gershwin, Vermont this summer has seen waves of hot, hot, hot weather; so humid and sticky that all I want to do is sit in the river. On days like these, I find my appetite isn’t normal, so I try to make salads that are light, yet protein-filled enough so I don’t walk away hungry.

True Nicoise salad has tomatoes, olives, fava beans, and even anchovies. Mine is a bit different, adding some boiled potatoes, radishes that I had on hand, and a salmon salad I made which is just canned salmon, lemon juice, and some capers. I love salads that have a little bit of this and that, so you, too, can create your own riff on the salad, adding your own favorite vegetables and protein. If you’re a vegetarian, you can make a white bean salad in place of the salmon. The vinaigrette recipe will probably make more dressing than you need, but it will keep for at least a week if not longer in a cool spot in your kitchen or in the fridge.

misenplaceI created this salad to take on my annual trek to Lake George with friends a few weeks ago for a simple and delicious lunch. And it is one that is easy to tote if you’re going to the beach or for a picnic. See? >>>

Of course, soon after I wrote this recipe, the temperatures turned and I could finally turn on the oven again. So in the meantime, I’ll tuck this away for the next time we take a trip to the lake or the heat comes back–whichever comes first.

salad
MVK’s Nicoise Salad
2 red peppers, thinly sliced
1-2 cups green beans, steamed
4 small red potatoes, boiled and cubed
4 radishes, sliced into fourths
3 hard-boiled eggs

Salmon or tuna salad: tossed with fresh lemon juice and capers (optional)

Vegetarian option: One can of white beans, toss with a little bit of lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, and chopped herbs.

Vinaigrette: 2/3 cup olive oil, 1/3 cup red wine vinegar (or a vinegar of your choice), 1-2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, ½ shallot (a couple teaspoons), finely chopped (optional). Whisk together.

MVK’s Endorsement of the Week: Speaking of Summertime. . . 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less

The title sounds like an infomercial, but seven years ago, when Mark Bittman was still working for the Dining section of the New York Times, he produced this masterpiece; 101 super simple recipes for summer. This has been a savior ever since for those nights I’m not sure what to make, it’s too hot, or I need some creativity.

The recipes run the gamut: meat, vegetarian, gluten-free, vegan. And they are all so simple, that the 10 minutes is true. Cook up some bratwurst with apples and serve with coleslaw (#59) or saute shredded zucchini in olive oil, adding garlic and chopped herbs. Serve over pasta. (#45) Or Bittman’s own version of Nicoise Salad (#34) Lightly steam haricot verts, green beans, or asparagus. Arrange on a plate with chickpeas, good canned tuna, hard-cooked eggs, a green salad, sliced cucumber and tomato. Dress with oil and vinegar.

You can find the article here, 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less.

Asian Chicken Pasta Salad

(Photo © EMR)

This recipe is loosely based on one I used to make from an Eating Well cookbook I received as a Christmas present many years ago. Since I no longer have the cookbook, I can’t tell you how similar this is to the original, as I’ve adapted and changed things through the years to make it even healthier. Since there are a few steps here, cooking the chicken and pasta, I tend to make this in advance, so dinner is ready to go on those busier evenings. But it definitely can be made on those nights you have a little more time, as well.

As always, proportions are approximations. If you want less pasta and more chicken (or vice versa), create away! If you’re a vegetarian, you can substitute tofu or different vegetables in place of the chicken. I usually load up on the vegetables in my salads, more filling and less calories!

Asian Chicken Pasta Salad
3 cups farfalle (bowtie) pasta or any other small-shaped pasta
2 large boneless chicken breasts, cooked and diced into bite-size pieces
1 red pepper, sliced
1 1/2 cups diced celery
Chopped scallions, about 1/4 cup or so
Chopped fresh ginger, a tablespoon or so
A few dashes of sesame seeds

Dressing
2 teaspoons sesame oil (you can definitely use more, but I find sesame oil very rich and I try to keep the fat content down)
1 Tablespoon miso paste*
Rice vinegar, enough to make a thin dressing with the miso

In a large mixing bowl, add the pasta, chicken, pepper, celery, scallions, sesame seeds, and ginger. Add the sesame oil and stir until incorporated. In a small bowl, add miso paste and enough vinegar to thin it to the consistency you desire. Add to the salad and thoroughly mix. Serve on its own or over greens.

*Miso paste  is made from rice and/or soy and is used as a base for soups and dressings in Asian cooking. I find a 13 ounce tub to be on the pricey side, upwards of $6 or so, but it lasts for years and adds a nice nutty flavor to whatever you are cooking. It is fairly salty, so be sure to taste your dish before adding any additional salt.