Strawberry & Goat Cheese Salad

Sometimes it is so tempting to not pack a lunch for the office. Sometimes I just want those extra ten minutes to sleep or drink coffee or play with my hair. Sometimes I am uninspired by what I see in my fridge. Sometimes I just plain don’t feel like making lunch.

strawberry and coat cheese salad

So I go out. I zip to the Whole Foods five minutes away and peruse the aisles for something to eat (grocery shopping when hungry may actually be considered some form of torture). I usually end up in the prepared food/salad bar section of the store trying to narrow down my choices. A few weeks ago I found a “Seasonal Selections” salad filled with berries, nuts, and goat cheese. I had to have it! So I did…for about $8. For. A. Salad.

strawberry and coat cheese salad

I am ashamed. It’d be one thing if the dish would stretch to two meals, but let’s be real, I rarely leave leftovers as it is and a salad surely won’t make the cut. It was delicious, just like I thought it would be, but it wasn’t entirely worth it. Plus, I did the math (which in itself is huge!) and realized I could spend about twice that much on ingredients and make the same kind of salad 6 times over!

And that’s exactly what I did. This Strawberry and Goat Cheese Salad is light, summery and perfect for on the go lunching or those days when making food is the last thing you want to do. Sweet berries, tangy cheese and filling nuts on a bed of crunchy greens? Yes please!

strawberry and coat cheese salad

Strawberry & Goat Cheese Salad (serves 1)

3 cups lettuce blend (I like Spring Mix and Romaine)

1 cup sliced strawberries

1 oz. goat cheese, crumbled

1 oz.  walnut pieces

balsamic vinegar, optional

Pile lettuce on plate and top with strawberries, nuts and cheese. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with salt and pepper, if desired.

strawberry and goat cheese salad

Whole Foods, Schmole Foods.

Sweet Potato and Lentil Salad

In grocery stores back home the deli cases offer a huge selection of what they call “salads” though none of the dishes actually have lettuce or greens in them. It’s a very Midwestern thing, I think, to have these giant bowls of goodness loaded with mayonnaise, pasta, potatoes, meats, and occasionally vegetables and to sell them for only $4.95/pound.

sweet potato and lentil salad

There’s potato salad (Polish or German, there’s a difference), pasta salad, tuna salad, fruit salad, grasshopper salad (a delicious combination of Cool Whip, mint flavoring, green food coloring, and crushed Oreos). The list goes on.

The traditional Midwestern response: “Kale? Escarole? Radicchio? Just who do you think you are? Those don’t belong in a salad! Now go get me a can of cream of mushroom soup for tonight’s hot dish…”

sweet potato and lentil salad

Aaaaaaaaanywho. That loose definition of what constitutes a salad led me to make this delish dish. Creamy sweet potatoes, protein-packed lentils, tart apples and meaty mushrooms are combined to make an incredibly filling vegetarian dish. A drizzle of balsamic reduction and a healthy sprinkling of a nice salty cheese balances out this warm and filling Sweet Potato and Lentil Salad. Make a large batch of it at the beginning of the week and eat for days or make for a group and a delicious side dish to go along with a roast chicken.

sweet potato and lentil salad

Sweet Potato and Lentil Salad (makes 4 servings)

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

¼ medium red onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced

1 tart apple (such as Cortland), chopped

1 medium sweet potato, steamed, peeled, and chopped

1 cup cooked lentils

Balsamic vinegar reduction, see recipe below

2-4 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, for serving (optional)

Salt to taste

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, stirring to coat with oil, and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add mushrooms, sprinkle with salt, and cook until mushrooms begin to soften and release juices. Add remaining oil, apples, sweet potato, and lentils. Cook until warmed through, about 5 – 10 minutes.

Divide among bowls and top with balsamic vinegar reduction and cheese. Serve immediately.

Balsamic Vinegar Reduction

½ cup balsamic vinegar

Place vinegar in a medium saucepan and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 5 – 10 minutes, or until reduced by half, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, allow to cool slightly. The reduction will thicken as it cools.

sweet potato and lentil salad

Totally worth $4.95/pound.

Blackberry & Blue Cheese Salad

“Woa! What’s that?” he asked as I slipped the lettuce into the cart. 

“Umm…salad mix?” I said, more question than answer. How did he not know what salad mix was? 

“What do you do with it?”

“Umm…make salad.”

“Should I get some? Should I be eating this?” He slipped a container of the greens onto his pile.

blackberry and blue cheese salad

On and on it went. My neighbor and I were grocery shopping and we were both experiencing a culture shock. He didn’t understand why I wanted fresh carrots and I was flabbergasted as to what one person could do with 10 frozen pizzas. He tried to convince me of the advantages of  a 2 for 1 sale on baked beans (just…no) and I tried to get him to buy 18 eggs instead of just a dozen. 

crumbled blue cheese

Clearly, our tastes don’t align, but the shopping trip was still fun. I’ve never seen someone get so confused in the bread aisle. And I definitely know he’d be very confused about this salad. Cheese on a salad? Nuts on a salad? Fruit on a salad? Yes, yes, and yes. This salad is so big and filling and fresh. Creamy and salty blue cheese (I got some fancy brand from Whole Foods – their cheese selection is my kryptonite). Crunchy and satisfying nuts. Sweet and juicy blackberries. Pile them high on a bed of mixed greens and vegetables and this is a perfect spring salad to enjoy for a quick dinner.

blackberry and blue cheese salad

Blackberry & Blue Cheese Salad 

2 cups mixed greens

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 cup cucumbers, peeled and sliced

2 TBSP red onion, sliced

1/2 cup blackberries, halved

1 oz (about 1/4 cup) pecan halves

2 oz. crumble blue cheese

Pile ingredients onto a large plate or toss in a large bowl, drizzle with balsamic vinegar or favorite salad dressing. Serve immediately. 

blackberry and blue cheese salad

…or share with a neighbor. Or maybe not.

Breadcrumb Stuffed Baked Tomatoes

I’ve had this fascination lately with eating “Brupper.” (That’s “breakfast-for-supper” for the uninformed.) It’s partly due to my love of all things breakfast food and partly due to my laziness. By the time I get home from my internship (and an hour stuck in traffic) all I’m thinking is “FOOD! GET ME FOOD NOW!!!”

Breadcrumb Stuffed Tomatoes

So, eggs and toast have been a staple the past week. I find some veggies to throw in the eggs or on the side and – boom – complete meal.

Not wanting to eat scrambled or fried eggs for the umpteenth night in a row, I decided to get a little creative and put the eggs and toast inside the vegetables.

Breadcrumb Stuffed Tomatoes

With a little ingenuity and a quick round in the oven (my minuscule amount of patience is even thinner by night’s end), these Breadcrumb Stuffed Baked Tomatoes were ready in no time. They’re a healthier take on classic stuffed tomatoes, using egg whites in place of oil and a a full-flavored cheese used sparingly in place of a less flavorful, but more caloric one.

Breadcrumb Stuffed Tomatoes

Breadcrumb Stuffed Baked Tomatoes (makes approx. 6 small or 4 large tomatoes)

6 small tomatoes (about 2 inches around), I used chocolate tomatoes, but regular vine-ripened will work too

3 slices whole-wheat bread, toasted and cooled

2 egg whites

1 tsp. salt

1 TBSP crushed basil leaves

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese

2 TBSP olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a small baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.

Using a paring knife, cut into the tops of the tomatoes at a 45 degree angle and cut a circle around the top. Remove the top and discard. Using a spoon, scoop out the flesh and seeds of the tomato, being careful not to pierce through the skin.

Arrange the hollowed out tomatoes on the prepared baking dish and set aside.

Roughly rip the toast into the bowl of a food processor and process until they form coarse bread crumbs. Add the egg whites, salt, basil, and cheese and blend until fully incorporated.

Fill the tomatoes with an equal amount of the breadcrumb mixture, pressing filling in firmly. Drizzle stuffed tomatoes with olive oil and bake in preheated oven for 15 – 20 minutes or until flesh is tender.

Remove and allow to cool slightly before serving.

Breadcrumb Stuffed Tomatoes

Brupper of champions.

Cranberry & Gorgonzola Crostini with Balsamic Drizzle

I knew it would happen eventually. The day was going to come when I ran out of Christmas cookies. Sadly, that day came all too soon this year (or, last year, I guess…since it was 2012. Woa).
I was still on winter break when the last bits of frosting and broken crumbs disappeared. The well had dried up. I was out of cookies. Meaning I was out of breakfast. I needed a new sugar fix, and I needed it fast. I couldn’t just stop consuming unnecessary amounts of sugar first thing in the morning. I’m not a barbarian.
So, I started making cinnamon sugar toast. In massive quantities. Every day. I really and truly was going through bread at an alarming rate.  But somehow, on the day I came back to school, there was still half a loaf of whole wheat French bread sitting on the counter (because the whole wheat goodness totally makes cinnamon sugar toast a health food, it’s science). My dad wasn’t going to eat it, so I brought it back to school.
But now, in my apartment, with no cinnamon sugar shaker premixed or softened butter in a dish next to the toaster, I can’t really justify making cinnamon sugar toast for breakfast every day of the week. So I had to find something else to do with the bread. Something as equally simple and quick as cinnamon sugar toast, but a tad healthier.

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Acorn Squash and Kale Risotto

I have this friend, let’s call her Peg, who doesn’t really “do” vegetables. She doesn’t buy them, rarely eats them, and certainly doesn’t cook them. She actually doesn’t really cook anything, save for microwaving the occasional Lean Cuisine Meal.
You’d think that being the complete opposite of her, I’d be less than enthused to interact with Peg, but in fact, that is not at all the case. I feel the need to take care of her, to make sure she’s getting some kind of sustenance besides blueberry bagels smothered in cream cheese. The girl loves carbs.

At least once a week, Peg picks me up and we go to the grocery store (because her fridge contains only Diet Coke and cheese cubes) so I can make dinner. While she stocks up on bagels and freezer meals, I gather up fresh produce, eggs, butter, and whatever else I’ll need to make dinner and dessert.
Back at her apartment, I start puttering around in the kitchen while she does homework at the dining room table. I know trying to get her to eat a salad or steamed cauliflower is not going to happen, so I have to get sneaky with vegetables. She informs me her mother used to try and stick vegetables in pasta and Peg, stubborn even at age 4, would spit them out on the floor and only eat the noodles. This friendship is preparing me for motherhood.

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Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Caramelized Red Onions, Goat Cheese, and Toasted Walnuts

There are a few questions I don’t like being asked. “What size jeans are you?” “Did you want that with whipped cream?” “Can you give me the answer to this math problem?” Those are merely a sampling. They make me feel uncomfortable and unnecessarily stressed. I’ve carefully honed my behavior to avoid these kinds of questions (meaning I wear sweats, order Americanos, and refuse to take a math class until it is absolutely needed).
But lately, a question I can’t seem to escape is whether or not I am a vegetarian.
Growing up in Wisconsin, I didn’t encounter a whole lot of herbivores (I actually only knew one vegetarian before coming to college). Many times our family meals consisted of meat, potatoes, and more meat. Maybe some tasty biscuits from a can if we were feeling fancy.
Despite this meal plan, I managed to cultivate a strong taste for vegetables, particularly since coming to college. Raw, steamed, roasted, any way I can have them I will happily fill my plate. I include them in nearly every meal and feel very thrown off my axis if I don’t have any vegetables at all in a day. All very strange, I know.
Not all of my friends here share my outlook on, or love for, vegetables. I’ll talk about a dinner I made or order a meatless entree at a restaurant and be bombarded with a chorus of “Are you a vegetarian?”

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