Thursday, July 31, 2014

Mexican Chopped Salad

 I have had so much fun trying and writing about all these new salads this summer. I have actually learned quite a bit about making my own dressings and which oils and vinegars best compliment each other. It's also been a great way to eat healthy and use up amazing summer vegetables while they are in season. This Mexican Chopped Salad (adapted from here) is sort of a combination of 2 other salads I've tried this year -The  Chopped Greek Salad and the Southwestern Salad.

So I'm no expert on chopped salads, but I have eaten a few and now I've made a couple as well. In my experience, here's what makes a chopped salad a chopped salad. First, you should be able to eat a chopped salad with a fork and fork only. Everything should be cut small enough that you don't need a knife to make it bite-sized. I've also heard them called "spoon salads" because you could eat it with a spoon if you wanted to. Second, lettuce should not be the star of the salad. It should blend in with all the other ingredients.

This salad has amazing summer ingredients as well as a crunchy corn tortilla topper. The lime and honey dressing is super easy and light and gives an unexpected but complimentary sweetness to the salad. The whole thing is so refreshing and honestly, since there are black beans for protein, it could really stand alone as a lunch.

There are two pictures of ingredients.
 Here's what you may need to pick from your garden or pick up at the store (yes I know that you can't pick canned black beans and corn tortillas from your garden - hopefully you get the point).

Here are your pantry items.

Ingredients for the Dressing:
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 T. honey
1 t. cumin
2 cloves garlic
1/2 t. salt
4 T. olive oil
freshly ground pepper

Mix everything together.
For the record, this is the picture I took before I added the oil, so the measurement is a little off of what you should end up with.


 These corn tortilla strips are so delicious that I'm seriously going to make more just to snack on.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Take 6 corn tortillas and slice them into 1/4 inch strips.

Drizzle a couple Tablespoons of olive oil over the strips, coating them. Sprinkle with sea salt.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, stirring about 5 every  minutes.

Take them out when they're slightly brown and crispy.


Now for the main part of the salad. For the most part, it's just chopping, chopping, and more chopping (it is a chopped salad, after all).

I chose to grill the corn, but it's not necessary. It's been in the 70's here all week, and the grill has just been begging to get fired up. You can boil it and it will be just as fine - minus the yummy grilled taste.

 Here's my method for grilling corn.

Pull off the outside husks. Pull back (without removing) the inside husks so you can remove the silk.

Put the inside husks back around the corn.

 And soak it in a pan of water. This helps prevent the husks from catching fire on the grill.
  Grill over low heat for 20 minutes, turning 5 every  minutes. Let it cool before you cut it for the salad.

Now for the chopping. Cut the romaine and tomatoes into bite sized pieces.

Dice up the peppers (take the seeds out of the jalapeno if you don't want the heat), and dice the avocado.

Dice up half of the red onion. Drain and rinse the black beans. If you skip the rinsing, the beans leave a grayish coating over the salad. It just looks cleaner when they are rinsed.

Once the corn is cooled, cut it off the cob.

And finally, mix it all together.

Coat it with the dressing and top with corn tortilla strips.

 This salad goes great with anything. I served it with brown rice mixed with leftover brisket. The combination was so delicious. Also, this salad holds up extremely well for leftovers, so even though it makes a LOT, you can eat on it for several days.

I hope you've had a chance to make some yummy salads with deliciously fresh produce this summer!

Other salads I've tried this summer are...

1.) Grilled Corn Salad with Basil Dressing
2.) Watermelon Salad with Balsamic Dressing
3.) Cucumber Dill Greek Yogurt Salad
4.) Caprese Salad with Basil Pesto
5.) Southern Western Salad with Marinated Chicken 
6.) Three Bean Salad 
7.) Chopped Greek Salad 
8.) Farmer's Market Pasta Salad

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Runge Nature Center

My friend and I took our boys to the Runge Nature Center in Jefferson City earlier this week. This amazing 100 acre area run by the Missouri Department of Conservation does an amazing job with their visitor's center and children's programs. When we first made the plans, we were going to do the "Ant - ics" presentation to learn all about ants, but apparently those classes fill up pretty quickly. I called to reserve our spots the day before our trip and it was already filled up with a waiting list. The lady I talked to suggested that we come do the "Forest Fun," which doesn't require a reservation. So that's what we did. As it turned out, we didn't even need to do that. There was PLENTY to do even without that.

 Here are the boys: Eli, Peyton, and Lex, ready for some nature fun!


 Inside the visitor's center, they had several tables/stations set up for kids to go through to learn about Missouri's nature. This one was where they could learn about the importance of trees. See the little toad in the box? And the spoons were so cool and carved by one of the Nature Center volunteers. I'm thinking I should take up whittling or carving or whatever it is that would produce such beautiful utensils.I could use some hand carved tools in my kitchen.

 This is an area with different levels of seating platforms where you can bird watch. There are several pair of binoculars that you can borrow for viewing.

 We saw some wild turkeys (didn't need binoculars for those!) and some cardinals. An older couple who was also viewing said that these turkeys had been hanging out all week. We see wild turkeys around our house quite a bit, but I don't think I've ever seen them so close!

This station was pretty cool because you could play with different tools that mimic animal sounds. Those bottle looking things on the right can be pushed down to emit a scent of something in nature. One was a skunk and one was a stink weed.

 There were a few rooms with aquariums of reptiles and fish. I wish I would have taken a picture of the other walls in this room. There was a floor to ceiling magnetic board mural of a water landscape. You could take these giant bug and animal magnets and move them all over the wall. Of course, our boys were more interested in the live animals than the magnetic ones.

 Here you can see some of the magnetic walls. Everything, everywhere was interactive, just like this log. There were little animal puppets inside of it.

 More aquariums.

 Fish viewing.

 Here's another interactive station where you could push the button and watch a video about the sea otters. These are pretty common on the Missouri River, but I've never seen one in real life. Maybe that should be on my bucket list next summer.

Learning about wetlands.

Turtle? ....or Dinosaur?

 We read about the different poisonous leaves in Missouri. My friend and I looked for them on our walk during the outdoor portion of our excursion.

 Here's a place to practice tying knots. The picture and instructions were very clear, but I have to say that I lost patience with this very quickly. I was not good at this.

 Horrible picture - but here's the point. After we walked all through the displays in the Visitor Center, there was a little video area where we sat and watched a little bit about owls. As it turned out, the boys were more interested in climbing at this point, so we headed outside.

 Here's the start of the half mile trail.

There was a station set up in the woods where the kids could try to catch some bugs. If they caught one, they could bring it back and put it in a container to view with a magnifier.

 We had fun looking, but didn't catch anything. My boys have had done their share of catching bugs this summer anyway, so I don't think they felt like they were missing out on anything.

We found this fallen tree on another part of the trail and it might as well have been begging for the boys to climb on it.

And so they did. 

And they even stopped for a picture.

This was funny because at first, Peyton and Lex were the only ones standing in front of the sign, but then Eli wanted to get in the picture. They told him it was okay, but that he couldn't stand in front of the pictures on the pole. So he stood behind it instead. Gotta love 3 year old logic.

So that ended our morning at the Nature Center. Completely free, and full of engaging, hands on activities for the kids. AND we even got some exercise. If you haven't visited a nature center around you, you should look into it. I remember visiting one as a kid when I was little and was thrilled to find this one here in Missouri. I highly recommend it. It's not just for kids!

Friday, July 25, 2014

High Five for Friday

I'm linking up with Lauren from today to bring you five great (and/or just disturbing - see #2) things about this past week.

1.) I stopped by my classroom this week to see if things looked much different since I last saw it in May. I was happy to see that everything looked great AND my supply order from this past spring was waiting to be opened - just like a back to school present. I got WAY too excited to see these brand new Sharpie fine tip markers. Nerdy, I know. After looking through everything, I packed it all back in the boxes, except for these, which I brought home to label some new math center folders. Am I the only teacher out there who gets way too excited over new school supplies?

2.) There is nothing more horrifying than realizing that while you've been sitting on the deck talking on the phone, your three year old has been trying to load a dead opossum into the back of his toy dump truck. Not enough scrubbing in the world can remove that image from my brain. And no. There's no picture to go with this one. You're welcome.

3.) My friend and I took our kids to the Nature Center and saw this massive turtle. My friend took one look at this guy and said, "Is that a turtle or a dinosaur?" Tough call.

4.) I'm so happy for a great garden and fresh vegetables and delicious summer salads. Click here for this recipe and links to 7 other summer salad recipes that I've tried this year.

5.) My boys were so proud to finish our Library's Summer Reading Program. 30 stickers for reading 30 books. They turned in their sticker charts this week and each got certificates and a new book. Way to go, boys!

If you're new at my blog, have a look around! I welcome any new subscribers or comments! 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Farmer's Market Pasta Salad

In 2007, Barbara Kingsolver wrote a book called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It's her account about how she relocated her family from the west to Appalachia for a quest to grow or buy local all of their food for an entire year. They began with asparagus season and learned about gardening, raising their own animals, and how to stretch a season's produce as far as possible. It's an amazing book full of recipes, how-to's, and a little bit of science. Every year around February or March, I request the book from the public library so that I can reread it and get inspiration for the upcoming growing year.

I'm far from Barbara Kingsolver's approach of growing all of your own food, but try to do my part, I do try to eat clean as much as possible. For sure, if I'm cooking at home, I almost always (emphasis on almost) cook from scratch. That's what's so nice about summer and all of summer's vegetables. The fresh taste of summer produce makes cooking so much better and adds so much flavor. We are also fortunate to live in an area that in recent years has gone to a year round farmer's market. You can always get good produce.

So it's in that spirit that I bring you the latest edition of my Summer Salad Series (links to other salads will be at the end of the post). It's by far the easiest and also more versatile. In fact, it's not even a recipe, but more of a formula. Because as the name suggests, you use whatever vegetables are in season or that you can get at your farmer's market.

So here's the formula:
1 pound of any pasta, cooked
3-4 cups of vegetables, cooked (3 different vegetables are usually used for diverse flavor and color)
1 cup of dressing to coat it.

We used brown rice spiral pasta and mixed in vegetables from our garden (tomatoes and zucchini) as well as from the farmer's market (corn).

 This is the first year we've done cherry tomatoes in our garden and I am so excited! There are so many! I often don't make it inside with any, because I eat the ones I pick while I work in the garden. On this day, I managed to save some for the pasta salad. I just quartered them and threw them without cooking them. Mmmmm!

Our zucchini are coming slowly, but surely. We've had several already and have more coming. I sauteed one zucchini, sliced then quartered, in olive oil with some natural seasoned salt. I just boiled the corn, then cut it off the cob.  It would have been really good from the grill too, but I wasn't feeling that ambitious on this particular day.

For the finale, you combine the vegetables with the pasta and mix it together. 

Ta Da! How pretty is that? For the dressing, I combined 1/3 cup of homemade pesto with 2/3 cup olive oil, but you can add whatever you have on hand. It goes well with Italian style dressings as well as cream style dressings. I also suggest that if you aren't going to serve the salad right away, that you save the dressing, or at least part of it, until right before you serve it. If you prefer meat and cheese in your salad, then diced ham, pepperoni, or turkey all go well with pasta salads, as well any cheese.

Your local Farmer's Market would love to see you!

Other salads I've tried this summer are...

1.) Grilled Corn Salad with Basil Dressing
2.) Watermelon Salad with Balsamic Dressing
3.) Cucumber Dill Greek Yogurt Salad
4.) Caprese Salad with Basil Pesto
5.) Southern Western Salad with Marinated Chicken 
6.) Three Bean Salad 
7.) Chopped Greek Salad