Summer Night Pasta Salad

As I was preparing for a weekend get together with some out-of-town visitors, I picked up a tray of precut vegetables to serve with ranch dip for a poolside snack. The tray included an assortment of broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and snow peas. While the vegetable tray was a big hit among our guests, having other sweet and delicious snacks left me with a few extra vegetables when it was time to clean up. …No worries, as I could always use the left overs for a big summer night pasta salad. In fact, using the precut veggies can really save time in the kitchen. Searching the fridge for other left over ingredients, here’s the impromptu recipe that I pulled together:

Summer Night Pasta Salad

1 pound fun-shaped pasta

2 tablespoons Italian seasoning (basil, oregano, sun dried tomato mix)

1 (16 ounce) bottle Marzetti Sweet Italian Dressing, or to taste

2 cups tomatoes, diced (sprinkled with a little salt, optional)

2 yellow bell pepper, chopped

1 cup chopped broccoli

1/2 cup chopped carrots, optional

6 ounces precooked summer sausage, chopped

1 cup mozzarella cheese

In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta until al dente, rinse under cold water and drain. Whisk together the Italian seasoning and Italian dressing.

In a large salad bowl, combine the pasta, vegetables, and sausage. Pour dressing over salad; toss. Sprinkle with mozzarella and refrigerate overnight.

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Butternut Squash Salad in a Jar

I’m always looking for a “silver lining” when I’m inconvenienced or when things just don’t seem to be going my way.  Recently, I found that silver lining in a major road construction project that closed a through-fare  that I frequented on my daily jaunt back and forth to work.  Because of the construction, a detour took me down a winding country road that was quite scenic as the fall landscape was beautiful.  Tucked in among the oak trees and farm land sat a roadside farm stand that was bursting at the seams with an abundance of cool weather vegetables, plump ripe tomatoes, and an assortment of peppers.  The entire front yard displayed a sea of beautiful orange pumpkins where families strolled to pick out a few of their favorites.  I had my eyes on the butternut squash as I pulled my vehicle to the side of the road. Hand written prices were scrawled on a mini chalkboard that was propped up against the old wooden flat bed wagon. A tin can was laid out for patrons to square up their bill and honestly leave the amount due.  It was like a blast from the past.  I was thrilled to have found this quiet piece of paradise alongside the road construction and the hectic traffic of the day. 

Arriving home, I searched the web for a delicious looking recipe where I could use my butternut squash.  I stumbled on this salad in a jar recipe and immediately gathered the ingredients I would need for the colorful dish. I chose this recipe because of the maple syrup in the dressing.  We tapped our trees this past spring and I wanted to use our own maple syrup with the other dressing ingredients.  I made a few slight changes to the recipe…  Instead of pepitas, I used sunflower seeds and instead of the quinoa, I used couscous. I used a container of field greens for the salad mix.  This is a delicious recipe that I will be sure to make again.  Here’s the link for this “Fall Mason Jar Salad with Maple Balsamic Dressing”…

https://www.spoonfulofflavor.com/2015/09/14/fall-mason-jar-salad-with-maple-balsamic-dressing/

Festive Cranberry, Pecan and Feta Salad

I recently attended a daylong training in Indianapolis.  A soup and salad lunch was served mid-day.  One of the local restaurants was asked to provide a bounty of fresh rolls, piping hot turkey chili and a fabulous cranberry and feta salad.  I passed on the rolls and chili but piled a healthy portion of the salad on my festive plate.  As I munched on the salad, I was reminded of a recipe that I used to make years ago and made a note to look through my cookbook collection to remake the dish for the Thanksgiving table (for some lighter fare.) Here is the version that I made… I don’t recall where the recipe originated, I have a handwritten note with the dressing ingredients loosely estimated.  We sure enjoyed this recipe. To save time, I’ve used a bottled raspberry vinaigrette or poppy seed dressing.  I have also added some freshly sliced pears to the mix. Super easy and delicious! Great for the upcoming holidays.

 

Festive Cranberry Feta and Pecan Salad

2 tablespoons raspberry or apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon sugar or the equivalent sweetener

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

6 tablespoons olive oil

6 cups mixed salad greens, rinsed and dried

3/4 cup dried cranberries

3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

1 cup pecan halves, lightly toasted

In a small bowl, stir together the vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt, and pepper; mix until sugar and salt dissolve. Slowly whisk in olive oil.  In a chilled  glass salad bowl, toss together the greens, cranberries, pecans, and cheese. Drizzle with vinaigrette, and gently toss to coat. Serve immediately.

Copy Cat Marshall Field’s Chicken Salad

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I grew up in a northwest suburb of Chicago. When I was young, there was a bus that would travel from the center of my small town to a local shopping mall that housed the famous Marshall Field’s & Company. During the summer months, my best friend and I would board the bus and head to the mall. The bus was never crowded and the air conditioned environment was a welcome sensation as we had to ride our bikes to the bus stop in the summer heat. The first stop at this enormous shopping mall was the Marshall Field’s entrance. We would hop off the bus and head to our favorite restaurant destinations housed within the centrally located food court. After lunch, we made our way through all of the “young girl” stores that displayed an array of cheap jewelry, poorly constructed clothing, and inexpensive footwear.
As we grew older, we found the bus trip to the mall to be a great way to save on gas money, forget about the hassle of finding a parking spot, and catch up with friends while the bus driver brought us to our desired destination.
Marshall Field’s had a cafe style lunch area that became our new, more mature, lunch hangout. I would always order the Chicken Salad. Their recipe included sweet grapes, crunchy nuts, and moist chicken bits, in a smooth creamy dressing.
Over the years, I’ve tried to mimic the recipe to the best of my recollection. I’ve seen other copycat recipes that include sour cream and Dijon mustard, but this is the way I like to remember the salad. I often substitute the grapes with pineapple for a more tropical twist… And I sometimes serve the chicken salad in a pineapple boat for a dramatic summer presentation. Every time I assemble this recipe, I think about my carefree summer days riding the bus and enjoying the wonderful memories of Marshall Field’s & Company.

Copy Cat Marshall Field’s Chicken Salad

3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 1/2 cups boneless skinless chicken breasts, fully cooked and chopped
1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
2 tablespoons onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup pecans or walnuts, toasted and chopped
1/4 cup thompson seedless grapes, halved (optional)
lettuce leaf or plum tomatoes, for serving (optional)

Mix first 4 ingredients together in large bowl.
Add chicken, onion, celery, pecans, and optional grapes. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Farmer’s Market Pasta Salad

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It’s always fun to use up fresh garden veggies by throwing them into a big bowl of tender, herb-spiced pasta. While I have a variety of fruits and vegetables planted in my summer garden, it will be a while before they are ready for harvest. In the meantime, I just love heading out to the local farmer’s market to pick up a healthy dose of garden fresh vegetables for some of my lite warm-weather recipes.
This recipe couldn’t be any easier. Use your favorite vegetables, cheese, or meat to mix into this cold pasta salad. A tall glass of iced tea and some whole grain crackers can round out the meal as the sun shines, the heat sets in, and we welcome the lazy days of summer.

Farmer’s Market Pasta Salad

14 ounces pasta, uncooked
1/2 cucumber, chopped
3 green onions, finely chopped
5 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 red pepper, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 Tablespoons fresh basil, parsley, and oregano, finely chopped
1 cup zesty Italian-style salad dressing
3 Tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated

Fill a large pot with lightly salted water, bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Stir in pasta, return to a boil. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the pasta has cooked through, but is still firm to the bite, about 8 minutes. Drain and cool by running cold water over the pasta in a colander set in the sink. Coat with a small amount of dressing to prevent pasta sticking together. Cool completely.
2. Combine pasta, vegetables, and herbs in a large bowl. Pour the remaining Italian dressing over the salad and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours. Sprinkle on Parmesan cheese before serving.

Shrimp Bruschetta

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Recently, I bought some raw shrimp at the local market. Because of our crazy busy summer schedule, I needed to prepare the shrimp in a way that was quick and easy. Basil has been growing like mad in my garden so I thought it best to whip up a fast sauté with tomatoes, basil, shrimp and Parmesan cheese. As many of you know, I try to stay away from white flour and high carbs, so this fit the bill for a light Sunday brunch dish.

Shrimp Bruschetta

1 lb. shrimp, shelled, cleaned, and deveined
2 medium tomatoes, washed and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat; add olive oil and garlic. Sauté until garlic is lightly browned. Add shrimp and cook quickly until shrimp is pink and cooked through. Remove from pan. In a medium bowl, combine remaining ingredients and toss in the shrimp. Season to taste. Serve as a salad or pour it over lightly toasted crusty bread for a tradition bruschetta appetizer.

Refreshing Strawberry Spinach Salad

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This is one of my favorite salads. I usually make it during the late spring months when we have loads of strawberries ripe for the picking. However, a couple of weeks ago, I went to a holiday party and brought this salad along. I knew there would be lots of rich desserts, heavy side dishes, and sweet holiday beverages so I wanted to bring along something light and flavorful. The green and red of the spinach and strawberry mix certainly made the salad look festive. Surprisingly, the strawberries were sweet and juicy. Our grocer’s winter berry selection is usually flavorless and strawberries often have a firm, rock-like texture. I expected to have to sweeten up the berries with a small sprinkle of sugar before adding them to the salad. To my surprise, they were perfect in every way. I was also pleased that I didn’t have to part with a small fortune when purchasing the berries. They were quite reasonably priced so I made sure to buy a load of them.
For a dramatic presentation, I often mix the salad in a clear, deep bowl to show off the beautiful colors within the mix. The deep green of the spinach, and rosy red of the strawberries glisten under the glaze of dressing. Flecks of black and beige (from the addition of poppy and sesame seeds) make the salad look quite appetizing.
While the winter temperatures are down-right bone chilling and the snow continues to fall, I long for the warm sunny days of spring and summer when fresh produce is abundant and flavorful summer salads are a welcome part of the everyday meal.

Strawberry and Spinach Salad

1 large bag, pre-packaged baby spinach, stems removed
4 cups fresh strawberries, sliced
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoon poppy seeds

In a large bowl, toss together the spinach and strawberries. In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, sugar, paprika, sesame seeds, and poppy seeds. Just before serving, pour over the salad and toss to coat.

A good trick when traveling with this salad:
Slice the strawberries and place them at the bottom of the bowl. Then, lightly add clean, prepped spinach and cover the bowl with clear plastic wrap. Carry the dressing in a jelly jar or lidded plastic container. After reaching your destination, give the salad a toss and add the dressing, distributing everything evenly.