Antidote for the Heat

We’re looking at another week of excessive heat warnings; we must find an antidote for the heat! I live in an early 20th century house. It has 12-foot ceilings and a variable speed dehumidifying heat & air system. I added vents in the kitchen/sunroom area. It should be relatively cool where I’m sitting. It is not. And it will get hotter as the sun sinks directly into the west windows.

When it feels like (checks phone so as not to exaggerate) 110˚ outside, there’s only so much you can do to cool the house. Of course there are things you can do to cool your body – sit in front of a fan, put a wet towel on the back of your neck, sit in a bathtub of cool water, and eat and drink cold foods.

The past week, I’ve been turning almost everything into a salad topping. Pork tenderloin – shred some and throw it on a salad. Baked beets – serve those puppies cold on top of a salad. Blackened Brussels sprouts – you guessed it; chop them up for a salad. In fact, I combined those three atop shredded bok choy, arugula, and Swiss chard yesterday for lunch.

The thing I like about salads is the variety of tastes you can achieve by using the same ingredients paired and dressed differently. This works especially well for families who have different tastes. You can pre-make salad to each person’s preference or get out some colorful serving bowls and let everyone mix their own. This is especially advantageous for families with multiple differing allergies or intolerances.

When I purchase greens, I like to have a lighter lettuce option – butter, romaine, or iceberg – to pair with bitter or peppery greens. My favorite mild salad green is mȃche, also known as corn salad, but it’s not easy to find. Baby book choy and baby Swiss chard are also delicious mild salad greens. I may also offer spinach as an option.

Many like to include greens with bigger flavor. Popular bitter greens include frisée, radicchio, and dandelion greens. Watercress is great in salads. It may be bitter or peppery. Arugula is also bitter and peppery and grows like crazy in my garden.

I recently made a quick happy hour appetizer by topping crostini with cheese, salami, shredded arugula and balsamic drizzle. Arugula, prosciutto, and cantaloupe also play well together. Tomorrow I may make a salad with those flavors. I could also add a little fresh mozzarella, basil, and the same balsamic drizzle. Yum! The perfect salad for a hot afternoon.

The sweetness of fruit helps balance salads that begin with bitter greens. Apples, pears, and blueberries are some of my favorites. Oranges, strawberries, pineapple, mango, and cantaloupe are also great fresh choices.

Fruit doesn’t have to be fresh to top a salad. Dried cranberries, raisins, figs, or apricots add delicious layers of flavor and texture.

And fruit salads don’t have to include greens. They can just be fruit. I like to make dressing for fruit salad by mixing orange juice and mayonnaise or orange juice and plain yogurt. I also like to top fruit salads with a dollop of plain yogurt sprinkled with cinnamon. Fruit is so flavorful it doesn’t need much.

My grandmother loved to mix vegetables and fruit in carrot, raisin salad. Some home cooking restaurants serve this. They often try to fancy it up by adding pineapple. I prefer the simpler version.

When you’re choosing vegetables for salad, you may automatically think of all the things that can be served raw – celery, radish, carrot, squash, cucumber, tomato, cauliflower, broccoli, bell pepper, or onion. But blanched and lightly cooked vegetables can be delicious as well.

A local Mediterranean restaurant serves a salad that’s shredded lettuce topped with sautéed yellow squash, red bell pepper, and onion as well as beef/lamb gyro. I like to add English peas and apple to salads topped with chicken. And sugar snap peas are a great salad addition raw or steamed.

The vegetables can even be canned. Kidney beans, green beans, black beans, and corn from cans can all be used in salads. Bean salads and pasta salads are refreshing cold foods during the summer heat.

Even if you feel like you’re just throwing things together, there’s no harm in topping a salad off with a little extra crunch or yum. Nuts, seeds, cheese, croutons, parmesan crisps, tortilla strips, potato sticks, and bacon all serve this purpose well.

The final element can be light, medium, heavy, or not needed. Some like their dressing creamy. Some like it acidic, citrusy, or sweet. The hotter the weather, the lighter I like it.

Not weighing myself down with hot, heavy food helps counteract the heat, but finishing with a bite or two of sorbetto or granita leaves me feeling cool as a cucumber. And that’s a great antidote for the heat.

Playing a Mandoline

When I talk about playing a mandolin, I mean a food slicer. While I have strummed a mandolin, I can’t competently play one. Since mandoline (slicer) can be spelled mandolin and mandolin (instrument) can be spelled mandoline, it seemed like a good idea to begin by specifying. Now, on to the playing…

My assignment for a 4th of July BBQ was to bring a salad from my garden. This year’s weather combined with a last-minute change in seeds has resulted in a haphazard, untidy selection of growth. My salad harvest no longer includes lettuce, spinach, or squash. Instead, I have baby bok choy, arugula, and a limited amount of Swiss chard.

I decided to shred bok choy for the base. To that I added shredded chard and lightly chopped arugula. This year’s arugula is milder in flavor than last year’s, but if not kept in check it can quickly overpower other greens. I used a ratio of about 4 to 1 bok choy to arugula.

To balance the bitterness of the greens, I chose Gala apples, fresh mozzarella, and honey roasted pecan pieces. Some salads are delicious deconstructed. This one was dependent on the flavor combination in each bite, so I wanted to make sure the apples were distributed throughout.

I decided julienned strips would be the best option. Of course, the day before I managed to melt the handle of the knife I needed to cut the apples. I know that sounds odd. Somehow, it fell out of the silverware basket of my dishwasher and lodged against the heating element without me noticing. Well, until there was weird blue smoke in the air. But that’s another story for another day.

In this narrative, it meant I needed another option to julienne the apple. Off I went to my dining room closet where I store the mandoline I use for scalloped potatoes. My thinking was that if I used the mandoline to make thin, uniform slices, it wouldn’t be that hard to cut those into strips.

What I had forgotten was that the mandoline came with several interchangeable blades I’d never tried. I gave them a look and did a test swipe using a grater looking blade. Apparently, it’s a julienne blade because it made the most perfect strips I’ve ever seen. Whoo-hoo!!! My job just got a whole lot easier. I played that mandoline for all it was worth.

Once I had the greens assembled, I tossed in the apple, and added the cheese and pecans. Earlier I had made a balsamic vinaigrette sweetened with molasses and a little honey. It was thick and rich and poured like a balsamic drizzle. It was just the top-off the salad needed. It was a big hit!

I left the party feeling grateful for the mandoline with its functional simplicity and changeable blades. It shortened the work in my holiday and created a professional looking cut with the swipe of a hand.

I’m not big on small kitchen appliances and I try to keep the gadgets at a minimum, but the right tool at the right time can change cooking from drudgery to pleasure. That’s one big reason to learn to play a mandoline!

Let’s Go Green With Avocado!

Even if you don’t recycle, you can still go green with avocado! It’s time to bring the focus back to food for a minute. Spring hasn’t quite arrived, but I’m already craving salads made from fresh, tender spring greens. The farmers market in my neighborhood will open in April. In the meantime, I’m creating salads using red cabbage, baby arugula, and kale.

I’m not a big fan of most bottled dressing so I usually toss something together at home. I use a variety of vinegars-balsamic, apple cider, rice wine, and white wine-and pair them with extra virgin olive oil. Sometimes I’ll buy oil or vinegar infused with herbs, peppers, or fruit for some extra flavor dimension. For creamy dressings, I used to start with yogurt. Now I prefer avocado.

Avocados have a creamy texture and plenty of fat to serve as a base for dressing. They’re a great dairy alternative. And they provide lots of yummy nutrients.
One-third of a medium avocado has 1 gram of protein, .3mg of iron, 250mg of potassium, 11mcg of vitamin K, 45mcg folate, .7mg pantothenic acid, and .1mg copper plus iron, vitamins C,E,& B, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, and manganese.

That same serving of avocado has 3g dietary fiber and no sodium, sugar, or cholesterol. The fiber content combined with unsaturated fat makes avocados filling, heart-healthy, and diabetes-friendly.

Here’s an avocado dressing recipe I’ve been using:

Spicy Avocado Dressing

One ripe avocado
1 tbsp COYO natural flavor coconut yogurt alternative
1/2 tsp Sriracha
1/4 tsp salt
4 grinds black pepper
1/2 tbsp fresh squeezed orange juice
Squeeze of lemon or lime juice (optional)

Place avocado, coconut yogurt, and Sriracha in food chopper and pulse until smooth and creamy. Place avocado mixture in medium bowl. Stir in salt, pepper, and orange juice. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Keep the avocado turning from turning brown by adding a squeeze of lemon or lime juice before refrigerating.

If you’re not in the mood for salad, you can always use avocados to make guacamole. In addition to the traditional dip or salad, I sometimes use guacamole instead of mayonnaise or mustard on a sandwich to give it a boost in flavor and moisture. It’s especially good with roasted or fajita chicken.

Don’t forget to add avocado to your poké bowl. It’s delicious with rice, tofu, cucumber, carrots, edamame, and salmon, tuna, shrimp, or chicken.

Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention avocado toast. If you don’t want to make it at home, it’s most likely served at a coffee shop near you although it may not be gluten-free.

I’ve seen recipes that call for adding avocado to salsa, margaritas, and even pudding. I can see using them in muffins or fruit breads in the place of butter although I have not tried this.

But that’s what going green with avocados is all about…using them more often and in more variety. Have fun going green and bon appétit!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Make Your Salad More Salady

Instead of drenching your salad with dressing, why not make it more salady! When it comes to salads, it stands to reason that everyone would have different preferences. The question is, do those preferences make your salad more nutritious and satisfying or just more caloric?
Some of us love salads. Some of us choose salads as a healthy choice on a restaurant menu. If you’re eating salad because you love it, just keep on chomping! If you’re eating salad to be healthy, it’s worth considering what’s in and on it.

While many of you were happily grilling burgers Labor Day, my friends and I were eating salad. Our holiday fare was a Caesar salad topped with grilled chicken. Okay, I guess the chicken was an homage to holiday grilling.

Anyway, one friend doesn’t really like Caesar salads. She says she prefers traditional salads with iceberg lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and cheese. Another argued that traditional salad has mixed greens, strawberries, blueberries, cranberries and pecans. That was laughingly characterized as a fruit salad by the hardcore traditionalists.

The great thing about serving salad at home is the components can be presented separately so that each family member can fill a bowl or plate with the combination they prefer. This presents a great opportunity for children to explore raw food, flavor combinations, crunchiness, and food groups. The dinner table is the perfect place to learn about food.
Any salad full of fresh vegetables is healthy. Adding fresh fruit, herbs, and raw nuts can be healthy too. When I eat salad, I tend to dig out the crunchy things first. If the crunch is provided by sugar snap peas, cucumbers, apples, yellow bell pepper, and carrots my bowl is healthier than if the crunch is provided by croutons, bacon, candied nuts, or fried tortilla chips.

Of course a salad can have croutons and still be healthy. The key is the proportion of raw vegetables, herbs, fruit and nuts to bacon, cheese, sweetened nuts & dried fruit, fried toppings, croutons & dressing.

Almost every pre-dressed salad has way more dressing than I prefer. And even when you order dressing on the side in a restaurant, the portion cup will most likely contain 2 to 2.5 ounces. A single serving of dressing is 1 ounce.

This double portion (and sometimes there are two of these cups on the side) may not seem like a big deal while you’re pouring it on your salad, but if you’re pouring Ranch Dressing you’re adding 290 calories to your vegetables. That’s only 10 calories less than two medium chocolate cupcakes with frosting.

To help keep calories in check, I sometimes choose cottage cheese instead of dressing or skip the dressing altogether. In a salad filled with berries and nuts, I’m often happy with no dressing at all. I’ve also been known to use vinegar and a little salt, but skip the oil. When I make dressing at home, I often start with yogurt or avocado instead of mayo or use vinegar, oil, and water in equal proportions.
Once you’ve toned down the dressing, an easy way to keep the fat and calories down is to avoid any fried toppings. Some croutons are fried. If you opt for croutons, choose baked ones. If you’re gluten-free, the easiest thing to do is skip them. Substitute grilled chicken for fried chicken, and hold the bacon and fried wontons.

I’m not opposed to a wedge salad covered in bacon, bleu cheese and dressing. When properly chilled with perfectly crisp lettuce, they’re scrumptious. I just don’t think of it as a healthier alternative to a burger.

Reducing the amount of cheese in your salad can dramatically reduce the fat in your salad as well. This is why I think of making a healthy salad as keeping it more salady. The more flavor that is derived from fresh veggies and fruits instead of from things used to smother the veggies and fruits, the more salady it seems to me.

If you’re choosing salad as a meal, only vegetables and fruit with limited dressing may leave you feeling hungry soon after you eat. For a heartier salad, boiled eggs, black beans, chickpeas, avocado, tofu, and quinoa are some of my favorite additions.

Salad may be the most versatile entree that exists. The options are limited only by your imagination and the availability of ingredients. There’s a minimum of cooking required and fresh ingredients are encouraged. No wonder we love them. Now, if we can just bring ourselves to let them be more salady….