Rosemary Lemon Salad Dressing

Inspiration: Several years ago, we used to have the problem of bottles and condiments overtaking our refrigerator. We’d want a certain salad so we’d buy a bottle of dressing, or we’d want some Mexican so we’d buy some salsa, etc. We’d end up with bottles and bottles of items that eventually went bad after sticking around the fridge for months on end. So, I finally realized that I could reduce our waste and make things a lot more environmentally friendly and natural by making little batches of condiments whenever we need them. I also get to control exactly what is in my condiments this way, plus it’s really very fun to learn how to make items that I might not have considered making in the past. Better all around!

What We Loved: This dressing is exactly what a nice summer dressing should be. Light, lemony, and refreshing. The tangy lemon and earthy rosemary really complement each other well, and I feel like the flavors would work great on any number of savory salads. We enjoyed this dressing over a nice, light salad with leftovers from the fridge – chopped romaine hearts, sauteed diced lamb and snap peas, and chunks of smoked mozzarella.

Tips: The ingredient amounts for this dressing will vary depending on the size of your garlic cloves/lemon and your tastes. I think it’s best to just start with the base ingredients (using three parts oil to one part acid as a rule of thumb) and add more/less based on your preferences by taste testing. Listed below are the *very* approximate amounts that I used.

Rosemary Lemon Salad Dressing
Source: Adapted (slightly) from Sarah’s Cusina Bella

1 small clove garlic, finely minced & then smashed with a touch of salt into a paste
2 sprigs rosemary, finely minced
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup (maybe a bit less) extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and black pepper

1. Whisk the garlic, rosemary, lemon juice, and oil together. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Adjust the lemon & oil amounts as necessary if the dressing is too oily or too tart for your tastes.

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Cheesy Mexican Chicken Salad

Inspiration: We’ve certainly been eating a lot of summery salads lately. I sure do love winter comfort foods, but with the first signs of sunshine in the spring, I’m always more than ready to give them the boot. Light, casual food is one of our favorite things about summer, though there sure are a lot of things to love. Walks in the park, weekends downtown in the sunshine, cocktails, vacations, flip-flops, BBQs. I hope that everyone who celebrates Memorial Day this weekend gets a good dose of all of the summer things that make them happy!

What We Loved: Brandon just couldn’t get enough of this meal. He’s been really into the entrée type salads lately – those with a nice bed of lettuce, plenty of protein, and some great veggies. Like the shredded beef salad we had a few weeks ago, this salad is so full of flavors that it doesn’t even need a dressing. The chicken is mixed with three kinds of cheeses – cream cheese, cheddar, and Monterey Jack – and there are all kinds of Mexican spices and seasonings thrown in. The result is a rich, cheesy, spicy chicken mixture that is warm and wonderful. Combined with fresh and crisp romaine hearts, creamy avocado, and sweet tomatoes, this salad is just packed full of protein, vegetables, and flavor – which is really all that you need.

Helpful Hints: Though we loved this salad exactly as it was, anything that you would normally throw into a Mexican meal would probably be a good addition – sour cream, black olives, additional salsa, minced onions, pickled jalapenos, etc.

Cheesy Mexican Chicken Salad
Source: Chicken recipe adapted from Sweet Pea’s Kitchen, originally from Our Best Bites 

Olive oil or butter
1 slice onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup salsa
Juice of 1 small lime
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
3 cups cooked and shredded chicken
1/2 cup cheddar cheese
1/2 cup Monterey Jack cheese
Romaine hearts or other greens, chopped
Grape tomatoes, sliced
Avocado, sliced

1. Heat some oil or butter in a saute pan over medium heat, and then add the onion. Cook until softened. Add the garlic, and stir to combine.

2. Add the cream cheese, salsa, lime, chili powder, cumin, cilantro, chicken, and cheeses. Mix well to combine, and cook over low heat until heated through.

3. Serve the chicken mixture over the romaine hearts with grape tomatoes and avocado.

Hearts of Palm Salad

Inspiration: I’ve mentioned before that Brandon went to Brazil a few years back and that he introduced me to some new foods when he came back. Hearts of palm are one of those foods that he first tried at a Brazilian BBQ. For Brandon, they’ll always remind him of that meal, and for me, they will forever be linked to the romantic images of Brazil that live in my head. 85 degrees with glorious sunshine every day, perfect meals on the beach every night, drinking pina coladas in bathing suits all day long. That’s what it’s like, right? And because Brandon also introduced me to the caipirinha after returning from Brazil, in my eyes it’s practically a crime not to serve up a delicious caipirinha when you’re eating hearts of palm. They make a perfect pairing!

What We Loved: This salad is summer in a bowl. If you haven’t had hearts of palm before, they’re very tart and tangy, with a surprising creamy texture. Looking at them, you’d think that they might be crunchy or maybe have that vegetable crispness of something like a cucumber, but they’re actually very soft and creamy. Combined with their extremely tangy flavor, they’re really a unique food that is unlike anything else that I’ve had. And I think that this salad works so well because the other ingredients have similar components. There’s more tang from the lime, and the avocado chunks add some extra creaminess. With a hit of salt, some fresh cilantro, and a nice drizzle of rich olive oil, this salad is so bright/fresh and rich/indulgent all at the same time.

Helpful Hints: We enjoyed this salad alongside whitefish with banana salsa – a really great pairing!

Hearts of Palm Salad
Source: Original Recipe

1 14.5 oz can hearts of palm, cut into rounds
1 small avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced
Handful fresh cilantro, minced
Juice from half of a small lime
Kosher salt and black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

1. Add the hearts of palm, avocado, cilantro, and lime juice to a bowl. Season to taste with Kosher salt and black pepper. Add a drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil.

2. Mix gently to combine, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Avocado, Kiwi, and Strawberry Salad

Inspiration: Well, I think spring has finally sprung in good old Michigan. Thank goodness! After weeks and weeks of cold and rain and gloom that just kept coming back, things have finally been looking bright and sunny fairly regularly around here. Cherry blossom trees are blooming, all of the local breweries are coming out with their spring and summer beers, the cats are sitting at the window sniffing their little noses in the fresh air all day long. Life is good. And what spells spring food better than a nice fruit salad?

What We Loved: I told Brandon that this might be my favorite fruit salad that I’ve ever had. The three components – avocado, kiwi, and strawberry – each brought their their own unique flavors and textures to the dish and paired so perfectly together. The avocado was rich and creamy; the kiwi was tart and tangy with that great crispy texture from the seeds; and the strawberry was nice and sweet. I can’t imagine three fruits that would pair better together. And with a touch of lime, fresh cilantro, and salt, all of the ingredients really meshed together for a fantastic salad. I always feel like salt brings out the flavor in avocado so much, and I will never argue with that bright and fresh cilantro flavor. We enjoyed this alongside breakfast bell peppers for a lovely meal.

Helpful Hints: Be gentle when mixing this all together – avocado is fragile and will mush apart on you if you stir too much.

Avocado, Kiwi, and Strawberry Salad
Source: Inspired from Cook Like a Champion & serves two

1 avocado, pitted, peeled, and finely diced
5-6 strawberries, husked and finely diced
2 kiwis, peeled and finely diced
1 small handful cilantro, minced
Juice from 1/4 lime
Kosher salt and black pepper

1. Combine the avocado, strawberries, kiwi, cilantro, and lime juice in a bowl. Gently stir to combine. Season to taste with Kosher salt and black pepper.

Mexican Shredded Beef Salad with Goat Cheese and Grape Tomatoes

Mexican Shredded Beef Salad with Goat Cheese and Grape Tomatoes

Inspiration: I love salads that are just chock-full of all kinds of good stuff. At our favorite pub in town, they have this great cherry chicken salad that I frequently order. Chicken marinated in Bell’s Cherry Stout beer, Michigan cherries, bleu cheese, and more vegetables than you can list. It’s just fabulous (as is most of the local food at our pubs!). That said, I’ve never really made many main dish salads at home. I think it’s time to change that!

What We Loved: Wow, what a great shredded beef recipe. It’s so rich and intense with flavor (with all of the slow-cooked Mexican flavors of chili powder, garlic, cumin, and all of the other spices that I so often associate with Mexican food). I could eat it straight from the crockpot and be happy with that! It’s also incredibly tender, and it’s coated in such a wonderful sauce. You can’t tell from the pictures, but the sauce is thick and just coats the meat and clumps it together in all kinds of great flavor. I don’t think that I need to look any further for a standard recipe to use when I need shredded beef – this is absolutely wonderful. And in this particular meal, the creamy goat cheese pairs so beautifully with the shredded beef. The cheese just melts into the meat and is such a fantastic, rich combination. And of course, the big pile of crisp greens, cilantro, and grape tomatoes are the base of this salad, and they provide a great bed of light, fresh flavors for the other richer flavors. Rich and decadent yet light and refreshing. Perfect!

Helpful Hints: I always wonder about variations on cooking times, etc. when you are using slow cooker recipes. The original recipe uses a boneless roast and cooks for 8-10 hours on low. I went a little crazy and used a bone-in roast and cooked for two hours on high and five on low. So if you’re just a *little* short on time, that worked perfectly for me.

Mexican Shredded Beef Salad with Goat Cheese and Grape Tomatoes
Source: Shredded beef from Elly Says Opa

2 lb beef roast
Olive oil
1 onion, cut into quarters and sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup beef broth
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teasoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon oregano
Mixed salad greens
Goat cheese
Grape tomatoes

1. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Sprinkle the beef roast liberally with salt and pepper, and add it to the pan. Brown the roast on both sides, and place it in the crockpot.

2. Add the onions to the saute pan, and cook for a few minutes until softened and browning. Mix in the garlic and tomato paste, and cook for another minute. Mix in the beef broth and the spices, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

3. Pour the sauce over the roast. Cook on low for 8-10 hours (I actually did mine for 2 hours on high and 5 hours on low).

4. Shred the beef with two forks, removing any fat, and return to the crockpot. To soak up any extra liquid, turn the crockpot to high after shredding the beef.

5. Serve the shredded beef atop mixed greens and sprinkled with grape tomatoes, goat cheese, and cilantro.

Greek Salad

Inspiration: This salad has been kicking around my kitchen for several years now. Whenever I’m having a Greek-inspired main dish, I throw it on the menu. For some reason, I don’t tend to make foods from Greek cuisine as often as from other cuisines (Mexican, anyone??), but I really do love any Greek foods that I’ve had. It seems that every time we have a few drinks downtown on a summer night and are ravenous for supper, the gyro platter at our favorite Greek place just calls our names :)

What we Loved: Fresh vegetables, earthy olives, salty feta – what’s not to love? This is a very light, vegetable-packed salad that goes well with nearly any Greek meal, or it could even be a great vegetarian meal on its own. Everything is coated in a dressing of olive oil, vinegar, and oregano, which results in a tangy, earthy flavor that is just fabulous. Oregano is a key ingredient to Greek food in my mind, so I really enjoy its inclusion here. This salad pairs beautifully with a main dish of lamb – lamb chops or shish-kabobs marinated in oregano, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and olive oil are a great pairing.

Helpful Hints: You can present this salad in a number of ways. Sometimes I slice the vegetables into small pieces, and sometimes I chop them into larger chunks. You can keep the olives whole, crumble or slice your feta, buy grape tomatoes instead of large tomatoes, etc. Varying the presentation is a great way to give this recipe a little bit of a different spin every time that you make it. This particular time, I bought goat’s milk feta, which is another variation that you could try. I really enjoyed its fresh, tangy flavor and its consistency, which I thought was much creamier than other fetas.

Greek Salad
Source: Adapted from Cherrapeno

1 cucumber
1 tomato
2 slices onion
1/2 large can black olives
3-4 oz Feta cheese
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Slice into half-rings.

2. Cut the tomato into quarters, remove the seeds, and slice. Slice the onions and the olives.

3. Add all of the vegetables to a bowl. Cut the feta into cubes, and add to the bowl. 

3. Whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle over the salad and serve.

Creamy Cucumber Salad

Inspiration: I love getting fresh vegetables from Brandon’s parents’ garden. Armed with a crisper drawer full of cucumbers, I mixed up several batches of the cucumber vinegar salad that my parents always made when I was a kid and this creamy cucumber salad that Brandon’s mom always makes. We had some great cucumber snacks for a few weeks!

What we Loved: Cool and refreshing are the best words that I can think of to describe this salad. Dill, sour cream, and cucumbers work really well together to create a light salad that’s a great alternative when you’re not in the mood for a heavier dish. Served with some fresh tomato slices and a nice sprinkle of salt, this really is the lightest and most refreshing salad. Great for (these last few days of) summer!

Helpful Hints: Brandon’s mom always serves these cucumbers over fresh tomatoes, and I really love that flavor combination best. The juicy, sweet tomatoes complement the flavors of the cucumber and sour cream so well! Sometimes, she’ll serve these cucumbers as a side dish to her stuffed hot peppers, which I also think is a surprising and great flavor combination. This salad is also great just on its own as a light lunch or as a side dish to the rest of your lunch items.

Creamy Cucumber Salad
Source: Brandon’s Mom

2 cucumbers, diced
1-2 slices onion, diced
Sour cream
Dried or fresh dill
Salt and pepper

1. Place the cucumbers and onions in a bowl. Season well with dill, salt, and pepper. Add a big dollop of sour cream, and mix everything to combine. Taste, adding more sour cream or seasonings if desired.