Salad Days

Some days you just need a salad.  In our case, that day was Monday.  We had grilled all weekend, thanks to the gorgeous sunshine that finally warmed our corner of the country, and the family had eaten a lot of heavy meats (exception: me, of course, but I always welcome a Salad Day).

This particular salad is great for spring and summer because you still get to grill!  The salad-shunning man in your life will be happy to know this.  No BBQ?  Middle of winter?  I will admit to not wanting to deal with the massive propane monster on our deck, so I used a cast iron grill pan on the stove for the shrimp skewers this time.

And it's easy.  The worst part, as in any recipe involving shrimp, is cleaning the little buggers.  It's almost enough to make me swear off shrimp forever.  If you have already sworn them off, it'd be great with baked tofu, too.

If you can't find Newman's Own Low Fat Sesame Ginger Dressing, first: I suggest you search longer and harder because it is completely delicious.  If you still can't find it, you can make up your own marinade/dressing with 1/2 cup Kraft Catalina dressing, 1 T sesame oil, 1 t ginger (diced fresh is better), 1/2 t garlic powder (again, minced fresh is better but a little harder), and a good splash of rice wine vinegar.

Mandarin and Almond Shrimp Salad

16 large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined 
1 c sesame ginger dressing
1 head romaine, cut up
1 15 oz can mandarin oranges, drained
1/2 c sliced red pepper
1/2 c sugar snap peas
1/3 cup almonds
1/2 c cucumber, sliced

Soak skewers in water if using bamboo.  Skewer shrimp and marinate in 1/3 c sesame ginger dressing for 30 minutes or longer in the refrigerator.

Remove shrimp, discard dressing.

Heat grill on medium-high.  Grill shrimp 4-5 minutes each side, turning once.

Toss lettuce with 1/3 c dressing.   Arrange salad, veggies, and almonds on individual plates, and lay shrimp skewer across each one.

Drizzle shrimp with remaining 1/3 c dressing.

And your colorful dinner's done!  Embrace the Salad Days... even if you're no longer in your salad days.


Peanut Noodles with Tofu and Broccoli

Any recipe that uses up something that would otherwise be compost has my heart, and these Peanut Noodles make use of the stems of broccoli.  I don't know if its my store or what, but I usually end up with a good 3-4" extra inches of stem, even after leaving an inch or two attached to the dark green tops as a steamed side dish.  The original recipe called for cucumber cut into matchsticks, but I think the broccoli adds better crunch and also more fiber and nutrients.  

So don't throw those out: save your broccoli stems for Peanut Noodles!  (Another option for broccoli stems is to chop, freeze, and save them for a batch of Crockpot Lentil Soup)

Children love this dish, but it's sophisticated and tasty enough to satisfy the whole family.  Pass the green onions and cilantro at the table if your little ones are wary of "green stuff."

On the right in this photo is my baked tofu.  I use baked tofu for this recipe since it holds together better than tofu right out of the package, and is tastier since it's got built in flavor.

Baked Tofu

1 14 oz package organic tofu in water
1/4 c soy sauce or Dr Bragg's Liquid Amino Acids
1/8 t red chile flakes
1 t sugar

Oven to 350.  Drain tofu and cut into 8 slices.  Lay these on several layers of paper towels, cover with several more layers of towels.  Press.  Spray a baking dish with cooking spray, arrange tofu in dish.  Stir together remaining ingredients and spoon half of it over top of tofu slices (it's okay if it runs off).  Bake for 20 min.  Turn slices over, spoon other half of marinade over the tofu, and bake another 20 minutes.

Peanut Noodles with Tofu and Broccoli

8 oz spaghetti or fettucine
3/4 c chicken or vegetable broth
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 c peanut butter (old fashioned is best)
3 T sugar
1/4 t red chile flakes (omit if your little ones are sensitive to spice)
3 T soy sauce (or Dr Bragg's Liquid Amino Acids)
8 oz baked tofu
1 c broccoli stems, cut into matchsticks
1/3 c chopped peanuts
3 green onions, sliced
1/2 c cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

Cook pasta according to package directions.  With 2 minutes left on the time, add broccoli to pot.  Drain and set aside.  Heat broth, garlic, sugar, chiles, peanut butter, and soy sauce in pasta pot until boiling.  Turn off heat.  Add pasta and broccoli, toss.  Fold in tofu cubes.  Top each serving with chopped peanuts.  Pass cilantro and green onions at the table.

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Coconut Pecan Banana Bread

It seems impossible for me not to tweak a recipe these days.  I set out to make plain, old, delicious Chocolate Chip Banana Bread this afternoon, I swear I did.  Tried-n-true, everyone-loves-it banana bread.  Nothing fancy.

Then I came to 'vegetable oil' in the ingredients list, and I went straight for the coconut oil.  I just can't resist coconut in any form, and they say coconut oil is healthier and makes you more beautiful to boot.  Sign me up.

From there I found a bit of shredded, unsweetened coconut in the pantry, and also unearthed a small bottle of coconut flavoring in the spice cabinet.  There were pecans, too, and it seemed the banana bread's fate was sealed: Chocolate Chip gave way to Coconut Pecan Banana Bread.

I wasn't sure if it was going to taste great, but for coconut, I will risk much.

When I pulled the first two loaves out of the oven an hour or so later, they smelled amazing.  I waited a whole 25 seconds before loosening the loaf and turning it out on to the counter, exercising much restraint.  I snapped some quick pictures and then grabbed the knife - the moment of truth.

It tasted fabulous - banana'y, a little coconutty, and a lot delicious, with a bit of added crunch from the toasted coconut on top.

Let's bake.

Coconut Pecan Banana Bread

1 c coconut oil, melted
1 1/2 c sugar
3 eggs
1 t vanilla
1 t coconut extract
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1 t salt
1 t cinnamon
4 mashed bananas
3/4 c chopped pecans
1/2 c shredded, unsweetened coconut

Oven to 325.  Grease loaf pans (makes 2 9" loaves or 4 5" mini loaves).

Beat oil, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and coconut extract.  In another bowl, combine flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.  Add to the oil mixture, and just combine.  Fold in the mashed bananas, coconut (reserving a bit for sprinkling on top of the loaves), and pecans.

Pour into prepared pans, filling 2/3 of the way.  Bake 50 minutes for mini loaves, 1 hour for regular loaves, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Keep in mind, though, that they will continue to cook just a bit in the pans after you take them out of the oven.  Don't overbake - there should be a slight sheen to the very center of the loaf which will disappear as it cools.

This will be so tasty for Easter morning brunch... if they last that long.  I haven't tried it yet, but I have a sneaking suspicion that a smear of Nutella on this would be absolutely amazing.  Comment below if you try it!

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When Winter Lingers

The rain has just kept coming here, which shouldn't be surprising given that 'here' is Seattle, Washington. But it's been excessive and lengthy this winter even by our soggy, Gore-tex'ed standards.  What else can a girl do but invite over a bunch of girlfriends for comfort food, wine, and reality TV?

My friends are a delightfully diverse bunch.  They are moms, newlyweds, and single gals.  We are tall, short, and medium, Korean and Irish.  Our dietary needs run the gamut from those who will eat anything someone else makes for them to vegetarians and even one dairy-free, gluten-free girl.  What in the world do you make for this crowd?

You make them a baked potato bar, with vegetarian chili and all the traditional baked potato toppings on the side: shredded Tillamook cheddar (the only cheddar in my book), diced green onions, sour cream, dairy-free sour cream, diced bacon, salsa, sliced olives, and steamed broccoli.  Everyone stays on their diet, and most importantly, we all feel warmed, comforted, and well-fed.

Already thinking of my next meal, I baked up all the potatoes I had, with the hope that the girls would leave a few untouched and I'd get to make potato soup.  I got my wish, and then found this recipe in an old, funky cookbook which also magically included many of the toppings I had leftover as well.  Soup kismet.

Baked Potato Soup

6 large organic Yukon Gold potatoes, baked
1/2 c butter
3 T flour
3 c milk (fat free works just fine)
3/4 t salt
1/2 t black pepper
2 oz real bacon bits
4 oz sour cream (don't use fat free)
shredded cheddar cheese
diced green onions

Melt butter in large, heavy pot.  Whisk in flour and cook for 2 minutes.  Whisk in milk, and continue to stir until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

Cut potatoes into bite sized pieces (include the skins only if you are using organic potatoes.  If not, discard the skin) and add to pot with salt, pepper, and bacon. Cook 5 or 10 minutes, then use a potato masher to smooth out the potato chunks a bit.  Stir in sour cream and add more milk if needed to get the consistency you want.  Top with lots of cheese and diced green onions.

I left the cheese out of the main soup and instead added it as a topping since I wanted to freeze some of this soup - it'll be the perfect thing to take to one of our many friends who have recently had babies - but feel free to stir some in with the sour cream to incorporate it into the soup.

Don't forget to put more cheese on top, no matter what, and let the comfort roll over you as the rain hits the roof.

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