Thursday, April 7, 2016

Mom's Sweet and Tangy Salad

Sweet raspberry dressing, tangy blue cheese, tart dried cranberries, and salty french fried onions create the perfect flavor combination in this easy and versatile salad!

I'm so excited to share this salad with you all! It's about as easy as it gets, but there's something special about the flavor combinations happening here. It's inspired by a salad my mother in law makes. The ingredients aren't exotic or anything, but I wouldn't have known they played so well together until I TASTED it.

The most important components are the raspberry dressing, blue cheese, dried cranberries, and the french fried onions. The dressing gives an undeniable sweetness to the salad, but it's balanced with the tangy and savory blue cheese, the salty french fried onions, and the tart dried cranberries! The combination is truly perfect. All the right notes are hit!

As far as additions and substitutions, there are tons of options! My mother in law adds bacon (which is never a bad idea) and sunflower seeds. We oftentimes add grilled chicken breast when we're eating this salad as a dinner. Gorgonzola is wonderful in place of blue cheese, and feta will work as well, although I think the "stinky" component of blue and Gorgonzola helps balance the sweet ingredients. Fresh raspberries, strawberries, or even peaches would be great!

I personally like the "basics" of the salad to be on the mild side to let the other flavors shine, which is why I like romaine, tomato, and cucumber here, but feel free to put your spin on it! And the quantities listed below are really just guidelines; salad proportions are totally personal preference!

print recipe

Mom's Sweet and Tangy Salad
Sweet raspberry dressing, tangy blue cheese, tart dried cranberries, and salty french fried onions create the perfect flavor combination in this easy and versatile salad!
  • 2 Tbsp raspberry salad dressing (I like Ken's Lite Raspberry Walnut Vinaigrette)
  • 2 Tbsp blue cheese
  • 2 Tbsp dried cranberries
  • 2 Tbsp french fried onions
  • 1/4 cucumber (about 1/2 cup chopped)
  • 1 tomato (about 1/2 cup chopped)
  • 3 cups chopped romaine lettuce
  • 1/3 cup croutons
1. Rinse and chop the cucumber, tomato, and lettuce.2. Mix all ingredients together, and enjoy!
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 1 lunch/dinner sized salad or 3 side salads

This is the most difficult part of the recipe: chopping veggies! Clearly, this salad is a wonderful weeknight dinner because it takes almost no effort! Hot house (or English) cucumbers are my favorite because they're seedless and the skin isn't waxy like normal cucumbers! They're a little more expensive, but it's a price worth paying for me.

Maybe the proper "foodie" thing to do would be to make my own raspberry dressing here, but this stuff is so good! And it's what I really use and love when I make this salad. It's sweet, but not TOO sweet. If you know of a good recipe for raspberry dressing, please pass it along! I'd love to try making some myself. In the meantime, this is my jam.

Mix it aaaaaaall up.

And dig in! I hope you all love this salad as much as we do. It's not rocket science, but it's one of my favorites! Enjoy!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Black Bean Dip

Hello, everyone! WOOF, it's been a while! Please forgive me for the lengthy hiatus. I've been enjoying my free time since graduation last spring, and while I've been cooking up a STORM, I haven't gotten around to blogging until now!

I recently returned from my best friend's wedding in Costa Rica, which was absolute paradise! I surfed, danced, ate delicious Costa Rican food, and best of all, spent time with some of my best friends and celebrated the happy couple.

Check out #SJKTravels on social media for more pictures of my trip!

The thing about Costa Rican food that stuck out the most to me was the freshness. Fresh ingredients were combined together in simple ways and the true flavors of the ingredients shined. We ate lots of fish, chicken, rice and beans, veggies, and fruit, which might sound kind of boring, but when those foods are of high quality, the dishes are very satisfying and light! I can't help but notice how the Costa Rican cuisine echoes the national saying, "Pura vida," which simply translates to "pure life" but takes on many joyful and thankful meanings!

One dish I had that I'd never tasted before was a pureed black bean dip at Green Papaya Taco Bar in Tamarindo. It was served alongside guacamole, a spicy pepper dip, and tortilla chips, and I could have made a whole meal out of that appetizer! It was smooth, savory, light, and PURPLE!

What follows is my attempt at recreating this black bean dip! I kept the ingredients simple (as seemed to be the trend in Costa Rica). While I think I nailed the texture and flavor, my version is not nearly as beautiful as the original :( The red onion and bell pepper weren't enough to enhance the purple tone of the black beans, but damn if it isn't delicious!

The original was free of garnishes, but I love swirling a dollop of sour cream in the mix. If you're a cilantro fan, that's excellent on top as well. My lunch today consisted of avocado toast with sliced tomato and a side of chips and this black bean dip, a meal I highly recommend!

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Black Bean Dip
Costa Rican-inspired Black Bean Dip is smooth, savory, and light!
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 30 oz canned black beans
  • 1 clove fresh garlic
  • Juice of a lime
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Optional: sour cream and cilantro
1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.2. Chop 1/2 onion and the bell pepper in 1 - 2 inch chunks. Toss with olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper on a baking sheet.3. Roast onions and bell pepper at 450 degrees F for 10 minutes.4. While the onions and peppers are roasting, drain and rinse the canned black beans. Peel the garlic clove and juice the lime.5. When the roasting is complete, blend all (non-optional) ingredients in a food processor until smooth. You may have to scrape down the sides and re-blend a few times.6. Serve with tortilla chips. Swirl a dollop of sour cream on top and sprinkle with cilantro if desired. Enjoy!
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 2.5 cups

1. - 2. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. Chop the 1/2 onion and red bell pepper in large chunks and toss with olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper.

3. Roast at 450 degrees F for 10 minutes. Prepare for your house to smell savory and heavenly.

4. While the veggies roast, drain and rinse the black beans, peel the clove of garlic, and juice the lime.

5. a. When roasting is complete, add everything (except the sour cream and cilantro) to the food processor and blend!

5. b. You may have to scrape down the sides and re-blend a few times in order to get the dip completely smooth.

5. c. The final result should be smooth with very few chunks left in it!

7. Serve with tortilla chips! Swirl in some sour cream and sprinkle with cilantro if you'd like. The final result has a fresh, savory taste to it with a little hint of sweetness from the roasted onion and bell pepper. It's both filling and light at the same time! I have a sneaking suspicion that this dip smeared on a tortilla would make any taco better. Challenge accepted!

P.S. Isn't this little turtle cute?! It's a whistle and the favor from the wedding, which I think I will make into an ornament.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds are such a fun added bonus to the pumpkin carving experience! They're a great blank canvas for sweet or savory seasonings, and I thought I'd go with a little bit of both for this recipe. It's autumn overload in the best way - Pumpkin Spiced Pumpkin Seeds! Sweet and spicy Pumpkin Pie Spice mixes with salt and sugar for a perfectly festive fall snack.  

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds with Pumpkin Pie Spice
Makes 1 cup
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Total time: 25 minutes

1 cup pumpkin seeds
1 tsp white sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp vegetable oil

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Clean pumpkin seeds in a colander under running water. Remove any pumpkin membrane.
3. Pat seeds dry with a paper towel.
4. Mix all ingredients together.
5. Spread pumpkin seeds in a single layer on a cookie sheet.

6. Bake for 15 – 17 minutes. All ovens are different, so watch the seeds carefully at the end of the cook time. 

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 2. Clean the fresh pumpkin seeds. It can be a messy job getting those seeds out! They're a wonderful added bonus to pumpkin carving though, a tasty roasted autumnal snack.

2. continued - Place the seeds an a colander under running water and rinse rinse rinse.

 2. continued - The goal is to get rid of all of the orange membrane from the pumpkin. Remove any orange pieces you see.

2. continued - Nice and clean!

3. Place the seeds in a relatively flat pile on a paper towel and pat dry.

3. continued - Make a little paper towel-pumpkin seed sandwich and pat off as much moisture as you can. The seeds will roast better if they are dry!

4. Mix all ingredients together.

5. Spread the pumpkin seeds out as evenly as possible on a baking sheet. I almost always line my baking sheets with aluminum foil (regardless of what I'm cooking) for easy clean-up! I didn't find it necessary to grease the baking sheet. The oil on the seeds make them release just fine! 6. Bake for 15-17 minutes. Watch the seeds closely towards the end! Every oven is different and the seeds can quickly go from golden brown to burnt.

Pumpkin Pie Spice

I'm such a sucker for pumpkin spice ANYTHING, and I am not ashamed to admit it! Many pumpkin-spiced recipes call for Pumpkin Pie Spice to give the dish a distinctive fall flavor. Pumpkin Pie Spice IS sold in stores, but you probably already have the ingredients needed to make it yourself! Sweet cinnamon and spicy nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and all spice make up the warm, intoxicating autumnal combination. 

This spice mixture crops up in so many fall recipes that you'll find plenty of uses for it! My Roasted Pumpkin Seeds are pumpkin-pie-spiced with a hint of sugar and salt for a sweet and savory flavor. I've also been mixing just a teensy bit of Pumpkin Pie Spice in my morning coffee, so with each sip I get a whiff of fall which perks me up almost as much as the caffeine! I get truly giddy this time of year with the holidays rolling around. I just can't help myself. I'll have to find the self control to not add this spice mixture to everything in the coming months!

Pumpkin Pie Spice
Makes 5 Tablespoons

1/4 cup ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground all spice

Mix spices together and store in an airtight container. Enjoy!

Monday, September 1, 2014

SJK Travels - Australia

I've just returned from down under and I had the most amazing trip! I made the loooooong haul (36 hour travel time), and my first stop was Townsville, a small town in North Eastern Australia. Billabong Sanctuary gave me the most giddy moments of the trip - I got to feed kangaroos!!! See my surprised-face above. AND I GOT TO HOLD A KOALA!

The little koala! Oooooh too much cuteness! I have to say - he clawed onto me for dear life and I had a few scratches to show for it, but it was worth it :)

And how about the scenery? The mountains near the beaches made for a totally different beach experience than I'm used to. I'm from Florida so I've seen some gorgeous coastline, but this - this was absolutely breathtaking. 

I picked up some Vegemite in Townsville and gave it a taste once I got home. It's really not half bad! I met a few Australians who gave me instructions on how to eat Vegemite:

How to eat Vegemite
1. Toast a slice of bread
2. Spread butter on the bread
3. Spread a THIN layer of Vegemite over the butter
4. Chow down

Seriously though, I kinda liked it! It's very savory and salty. I got a very strong soy sauce type flavor from it! My colleague who tried it with me said it tasted like strong, sharp cheese to him. I didn't get the cheesy notes, but it's definitely intense. Topped with some caramelized onions and a slice of tomato, Vegemite toast would be delish!

After Townsville I was off to Melbourne for a few days! Melbourne is actually the biggest city I've ever visited. I'm headed to New York City in October, and this was a nice primer! I BARELY scratched the surface of restaurants and attractions in Melbourne, but I crammed a good bit in during the few days I was there!

My favorite part of Melbourne was the little side streets lined with small shops and restaurants. These little streets were every foodie/shopper's paradise! With such a wide variety of specialty stores and local restaurants, it was difficult to tear myself away when it was time for work! Most stores and restaurants had open store fronts, which was something I didn't expect considering the weather! It was rainy and in the 50s and 40s while I was there, yet store fronts stayed wide open! I did like the open, artsy feel the open fronts gave everything though, even if I was a little cold while I shopped :)

I imagine this is true with many big cities, but Melbourne restaurants spanned a wide range of ethnic backgrounds. Naturally there are quite a few British restaurants, and there is definitely strong Asian influence in the cuisine, but I also saw a fair amount of Mediterranean restaurants! Getting a feel for Australian food was kind of a challenge, but maybe that's saying something - Melbourne definitely seemed like a melting pot. A few general things I noticed though, were lots of meat, lots of pumpkin, and lots of scones!

I ate dinner at Il Tempo, a small Italian restaurant on Degraves Street.  My dinner (pictured above) was Orecchiette Lamb Ragu with slow cooked lamb shoulder and peas *googly*eyes*. The lamb was tender and ultra savory and the peas brought a touch of sweet contrast. And personally I believe the most pasta, the better, so I was on board with the orecchiette ;) Italian comfort food at its finest.

The next morning I had a proper English breakfast at Hopetoun Tea Room! I love me some American breakfast with all the rich classics, do NOT get me wrong, but sometimes I get a hankering for fancy breakfast. I'm talking tea cups, scones with triple berry jam and double cream, and salmon with poached eggs, salmon roe, and crushed avocado over sourdough bread as pictured above. Unfortunately, I can't get breakfast like this in my home town. It's probably something that only exists in big cities. But between this breakfast and my favorite breakfast of all time in Vienna, my heart will long for fancy breakfasts for quite some time.

After breakfast it was off to Queen Victoria Market! With both indoor and outdoor shops, produce stands, and covered tables with clothing and other goods, it was kind of a combination of a farmer's market and flea market. And it was enormous! I found quite a few souvenirs ;) I picked up a St. Kilda footy scarf for myself (see below), locally roasted coffee beans for my parents, local wine for Paul, and breakfast for the next few days for myself. Again, it's probably a good thing that my shopping is strictly limited to what I can fit in my suitcase on the way home!

One of the highlights of my trip was an Australian Football League game at Etihad Stadium! As a huge American football fan (which Australians call "gridiron"), I HAD to see what Australian footy was all about. One of my Australian colleagues is a St. Kilda Saints fan, so I adopted St. Kilda as my footy team :) Scarf in tow, I attempted to understand the footy match, with admittedly little success. It's a rough, fast paced, high scoring, pad-less and helmet-less combination of American football, rugby, soccer, and basketball. They bounce the dang ball! It was so strange to watch, but FUN and intense.

The only drawback to my trip to Melbourne was the weather. My trip to Australia was 10 days long, so I of course checked the weather as I packed, but 10 day forecasts are only so reliable. Unfortunately it ended up being about 10 degrees colder in Melbourne than it was supposed to be, and I simply did not pack the proper clothing :( With the temperatures in the 40s and 50s and intermittent rain, I was shivering most of the trip! One of the best dinners I ate was a warm bowl of Chicken Teriyaki Ramen from Yuzu. The chicken was super tender, and the warm broth with ramen and veggies were exactly what I needed!

Unfortunately even with the above bowl of goodness I couldn't fend of my impending cold, and I spent the long journey home and the following week with a mean cold AND jet lag. Talk about the perfect storm! Eastward travel definitely causes worse jet lag than Westward travel, and the cold and the jet lag both made it hard to sleep, which made both things worse! Ugh.

If it wasn't for the cold, I really think I could have kicked the jet lag sooner! I've done surprisingly well with jet lag. I was completely adjusted to my destination time after the first night of sleep with all of my other long haul trips. I think the key is sleep deprivation (which isn't hard for me on planes). Keeping myself awake at all costs until my destination's proper night time worked for me in all cases besides the Eastward trip across the Pacific.

What are your travel essentials and tips?
Perhaps I'll do a post on some of the tips and tricks I've learned in my recent travels!

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