Strawberry & Goat Cheese Salad with 3-Minute Strawberry Balsamic Dressing.

 Up your salad game with this restaurant-style Strawberry & Goat Cheese Salad! A quick but impressive 3-minute Strawberry Balsamic Dressing ties it all together.

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May = Strawberries!
And, also the end of the school year. Womp womp. It’s always bittersweet!
I have been creating lots of delicious recipes for you the past month, so get ready for lots of cooking and baking inspiration to come your way this summer!

Today I’m sharing TWO summer ideas with you. One is a salad, and the other is a 5-ingredient dressing that will be ready in 3-minutes or less AND will compliment the salad perfectly! I even have a bonus mini-recipe for candied almonds at the bottom of the post!

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So, this salad. Just look at it! Swoon. I love adding fruit to my salad for a little natural sweetness, and ripe strawberries are the perfect way to achieve that. This Strawberry and Goat Cheese Salad is perfect for serving company or just enjoying on a weeknight. It’s simple. Ready?

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Spring mix.
Ripe strawberries.
Sliced/slivered almonds for some fun crunchy texture.
My 3-minute strawberry balsamic dressing (recipe below).
Crumbled goat cheese aka chèvre.
The goat cheese is slightly tangy but suuuuuuuuper creamy and compliments the strawberries perfectly. SO. GOOD.

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And then there’s this strawberry balsamic dressing. I’ve been making it for about 6 years now and it never disappoints. My husband isn’t the biggest fan of strawberries but he LOVES this dressing.

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This dressing is sooo quick and easy to make (3 minutes max!). There’s absolutely no reason to buy dressing when this is so easy to make. And, unlike some pre-packaged fruit dressings, there are no food dyes here; that beautiful pink color comes straight from 5 whole strawberries! I love how naturally colorful food can be.

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You’ll have to use some sort of blender to blend the strawberries together with the other ingredients. I used to use my immersion blender, but now that we have a Vitamix, I use it instead. It cleans itself so it’s just a little more convenient! But seriously, use whatever blending appliance you’ve got. Even a food processor should work nicely here.

Along with the strawberries, you’ll add olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, a little honey and a touch of salt. Blend it up and BOOM. Done! I like to store my homemade dressings in mason jars so I can give it a quick shake before serving, but you can store it however you want in the fridge.

3-Minute Strawberry Balsamic Dressing

Ingredients:

  • 5 large strawberries, ends cut off
  • 2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1-1 1/2 Tablespoons honey (use 1 Tablespoon unless your berries aren’t very sweet, in which case add a little more)
  • 1/4 tsp salt

1). Combine all ingredients in a food processor, immersion blender, regular blender, etc. Blend until smooth.

2). Serve immediately or store in the fridge. Enjoy!

Servings: about 8. Approximate Nutritional Information per Serving: Calories: 46 Carbs: 4g Fat: 4g Protein: 0g Fiber: 0g Points+: 1
Recipe courtesy of Audrey’s Apron.

Strawberry and Goat Cheese Salad

Ingredients:

  • Spring mix
  • Ripe strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • Sliced or slivered almonds*
  • Crumbled goat cheese
  • Strawberry Balsamic dressing from above

1). Add all ingredients to a bowl (I eyeball the measurements depending on what size crowd I’m feeding) and toss together. Serve immediately!

*Note: If you want to get really fancy, make your own candied almonds by sprinkling 3 T brown sugar in a skillet over medium heat. Add 1 T water as it heats up to help it dissolve. Watch carefully as the sugar and water come to a boil, then, when the water burns off, you will notice a change in the bubbles. Instead of being wet, they will start to thicken and turn darker. That’s when you add 1/4 cup slivered almonds. Toss them around, let them cool, then add them to the salad!

Recipe courtesy of Audrey’s Apron.

Easy Homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette.

My go-to balsamic vinaigrette recipe–quick, healthy, and easy!

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I can’t help but think about all the holidays (also: holiday food) that will be here soon, so I’m hoping this recipe will make eating salads more exciting in the meantime! Once the weather turns cold I don’t find myself craving crisp salads as much, but thankfully here in the south we’re still having highs in the 80’s, and my tomato plant is still producing lots of tomatoes, so salads are here to stay for now!

But let’s be honest…with a vinaigrette this delish we eat salads year-round.

Making a homemade vinaigrette is easy and I PROMISE it barely takes 5 minutes, but it makes a huge difference in the end result of your salad. I’m the first to admit that I don’t aaaaaaaalways make my own dressings, but I really prefer them. Not only do you have 100% control over every ingredient (goodbye crazy ingredients you can’t pronounce!), but they just have so. much. flavor!

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I like making my vinaigrettes in mason jars because I can measure straight into the jars, AND shake ’em up right in the container before serving. I also prefer using agave nectar over honey, but if you don’t have any agave nectar you can make that substitution. I also like a tart vinaigrette, but if you taste it and find it’s too tart for your liking, simply increase the olive oil by about 1/4 cup. It will dilute the balsamic vinegar for you.

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One of my favorite salad combinations? Lettuce, homegrown tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, avocado, a sprinkle of feta cheese, and this vinaigrette. Add some grilled chicken and you have yourself a complete meal!

Easy Homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette.

  • 1/2 cup EVOO
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1-2 tsp agave nectar (start with 1 and add more from there if it tastes too tart)
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • sea salt and black pepper

1). Combine all ingredients in a jar (or bowl) and shake (or whisk) to combine.

Servings: about 12. Nutritional Information per Serving: Calories: 90 Carbs: 2g Fat: 9g Points+: 3 Recipe courtesy of Audrey’s Apron.

“Black & Blue” Spring Salad with Blackberry Balsamic Vinaigrette.

It is finally feeling like spring around here! As soon as the weather turns warmer, I immediately turn to cool, crisp salads to keep my meals light and filling. I love salads and eat them year-round, but somehow when it’s freezing outside the idea of biting into a cold piece of lettuce does not appeal to me as much!

Salads can get really boring, really fast. The trick to keeping them from becoming mundane is (obviously) change! Change the base of your salad (baby spinach, romaine, spring mix, etc.). If you like cheese, change what type of cheese you add. Change what vegetables you include. Change what crunchy add-ins you include. Change the dressing. And in this case, change it up completely by adding fruit!

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I love ripe, juicy fruit in my salads and usually stick to strawberries, blueberries, apples, or pineapple. Until now, I had never included blackberries! They were perfect in this salad. They were tart but sweet, and off-set the bite from the blue cheese perfectly. I added a few sliced almonds for added crunch, too.

And then, of course, there’s the dressing. It’s the real star of the show (and of this post)! To play up the blackberry flavor more, I topped the salad off with a blackberry dressing. It was quick to make, easy, and had the right balance of sweet and tangy. It’s sweetened with honey and a touch of sugar. I tried it without the sugar and my face immediately puckered–way too tart! I usually try to eliminate added sugars, but in this case the dressing  most definitely needs it. A scant 1 tablespoon is all that’s needed, though, which turns out to be less than a teaspoon per serving. Not too bad!

I love the deep color of the blackberry dressing–so pretty! All I had in the fridge was romaine lettuce, but I think this dressing would be even more beautiful among the deep green of spring mix or baby spinach! Use your favorite, or whatever you have on hand.

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“Black & Blue” Spring Salad with Blackberry Balsamic Vinaigrette

For the salad: 

  • 4-5 cups of your favorite salad base (romaine, spring mix, baby kale, etc.)
  • 1/4 cup blue cheese*
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 cup fresh blackberries

For the blackberry balsamic dressing:

  • 1/2 cup fresh blackberries
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp EVOO
  • 1 tbsp honey (or agave nectar)
  • salt and pepper

1) To make the dressing: Add the blackberries and sugar to a food processor and process until smooth. Add the vinegar, olive oil, honey, salt, and pepper and process again until smooth.

2) To assemble the salad: in a large bowl, add the greens, blue cheese, sliced almonds, and blackberries. Top with blackberry balsamic vinaigrette. Enjoy!

*Note: to make it vegan, use agave nectar in place of honey and do not include the blue cheese!*

Servings: 4. Nutritional information per serving for the dressing: Calories: 105 Carbs: 10g Fat: 7g Sugar: 10g Fiber: 1g WWPoints+: 3

Nutritonal information per serving for the salad base: Calories: 91 Carbs: 5g Fat: 6g Protein: 4g Sugar: 2g Fiber: 3g WWPoints+: 2

Recipe adapted from: http://iowagirleats.com/2014/04/02/black-blue-spring-salad-with-honey-roasted-pecans-and-berry-balsamic-vinaigrette/  

 

 

Farro with Roasted Green Beans, Cranberries & Feta.

This farro salad is so nutty and flavorful! There are layers of different textures and flavors in each bite. The cranberries are slightly sweet, the roasted green beans add a little salt and crunch, the feta cheese adds a some tang, and the farro itself is chewy and nutty. Oh, and I almost forgot about the homemade balsamic vinaigrette that ties it all together! This side dish was a major hit with my husband and myself. It’s a nice change of pace from using the same old whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, etc.) and was very filling. It’s also very versatile: you can change what vegetable you include and what you serve it with. I served it with chicken but it honestly could go with anything!

IMG_20140120_192338001_HDRIf you’re unfamiliar with farro, have no fear! Although I have had farro before, this was my first attempt at cooking with it at home. To prepare it, all you have to do is boil it in a pot of water for 20 minutes until it is al dente (like pasta). Farro is not a form of pasta, however; it is a whole grain rich in Vitamins A, B, C, and E, as well as fiber and magnesium. Unfortunately, it is not gluten free. If you are gluten free, you could substitute quinoa for the farro. Farro by itself does not really have a particular taste (much like pasta or quinoa), making it a nice blank canvas for any flavor you want to add to it. In this salad, it absorbs the tangy balsamic vinaigrette and the flavors of the other ingredients perfectly.

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Please feel free to play around with what vegetable and cheese you include. Also, at the bottom of the farro salad recipe I posted how to make that simple homemade balsamic vinaigrette. It was perfect!

Farro with Roasted Green Beans, Cranberries & Feta.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup farro
  • 2 cups water
  • fresh green beans, trimmed and chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup reduced sugar dried cranberries
  • 1/2-3/4 cup reduced fat crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/2 tbsp EVOO
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder (or more, to taste)
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinaigrette**

1). Bring the water and farro to a boil in a small pot. Reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes, or until farro is al dente.

2). Preheat the oven to 400F. Toss the green beans in EVOO, salt, pepper, and garlic powder and spread them out on a baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes or until tender-crisp, moving them around about halfway through.

3). In a medium size bowl, mix the farro, green beans, cranberries, feta, and balsamic vinaigrette together. Adjust seasoning as necessary.

**Use homemade or store-bought vinaigrette.
I used the following recipe which will make a 1/2 cup (you only need 1/4 cup for the farro salad, so save the rest for another salad!):

Homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette

  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 large clove garlic (grated)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

1). Whisk all ingredients together well.

Servings of farro salad: 7. Nutritional Information per serving: Calories: 214 Carbs: 25g Fat: 11g protein: 6g Fiber: 5g WWPoints+: 6

Recipes adapted from: http://www.closetcooking.com/2012/01/roasted-mushroom-and-green-bean-farro.html and http://www.closetcooking.com/2010/02/balsamic-vinaigrette.html

Blackened Salmon Salad with Avocado Ranch Dressing

I absolutely adore this salmon salad! Like most men, my husband typically is not on board with simply eating a salad for dinner, but this was an exception! I was floored. It really is hearty enough to eat for dinner, but could easily be served for lunch as well. Cooking blackened fish is very quick and easy, plus it looks beautiful! The salmon has the perfect amount of spice, and the yogurt-y avocado dressing pairs very well with the blackened fish. If you are looking for a light end-of-summer dish, this is it!

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You can see how crispy the spice rub on the salmon is, but the fish is still flaky and tender inside. If you are worried about it being spicy, don’t be! Again, the dressing counteracts any spice from the fish, and I actually thought it could easily have been a little spicier. If you know you love spicy foods, consider increasing the amount of cayenne pepper.

The dressing recipe made plenty; in fact, I still have some leftover that I plan to enjoy on side salads throughout the week. I used a food processor to whip it up, but you can also use a blender. The dressing is definitely tangy from the yogurt and buttermilk, but it is also smooth due to the avocado. Side note: my husband does not like avocado at all, and he had no idea it was in this dressing! For those of you who are cooking for picky eaters, it seems the avocado is not very noticeable at all.

If you do not have buttermilk (I never do!) you can easily make your own in just 5 minutes. To make one cup of buttermilk, mix one cup of milk (I usually use skim) and a tbsp of lemon juice. Stir it together and let it sit on the counter for about 5 minutes while you work on another part of the recipe. In 5 minutes, you have buttermilk!

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Blackened Salmon Salad with Avocado Ranch Dressing

Ingredients:

For the salad:

  • 8 cups of mixed greens or lettuce
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes
  • 1 cucumber, chopped

For the salmon:

  • 3 teaspoons cumin
  • 3 teaspoons paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 4 (4-ounce) salmon fillets, skin removed
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil

For the dressing:

  • 1/2 avocado, skin removed and roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup low fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives (I used scallions)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk (I used my skim milk buttermilk trick from above)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the salmon:
1) In a small bowl combine all the ingredients except the salmon. Coat the salmon fillets evenly on both sides with the spice mixture, pressing the mixture in so it sticks.

2) Heat the oil in a large heavy preferably nonstick skillet over high heat. Add the salmon and cook until blackened on one side, about 4 minutes. Carefully turn the fillets and continue cooking until the other side is blackened and the salmon is tender, flaky, but not overcooked, about another 4 minutes.

For the dressing:
1) Combine all the dressing ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Press plastic wrap against the surface of the dressing and refrigerate until ready to use.

To assemble:
1) In a large bowl combine the salad greens, tomatoes, and cucumber. Divide the mixture among four serving bowls and top each with a salmon fillet. Drizzle with dressing. Serve.

Servings of dressing: 8. Nutritional Information per serving: Calories: 37 Carbs: 2g Fat: 1g Protein: 2g Sugar: 1g Fiber: 1g. WW PointsPlus: 1.

Servings of fish: 4. Nutritional information per serving: Calories: 252 Carbs: 0g Fat: 14g Protein: 25g Sugar: 0g Fiber: 0g WW PointsPlus: 6

Recipe adapted from: http://www.handletheheat.com/2013/07/blackened-salmon-salad-with-avocado-ranch-dressing.html 

(My New Favorite) Creamy Garlic Salad Dressing + a Salad Idea

I apologize for the lack of posts this month! My husband and I were on vacation and just returned a couple days ago, but have no fear: I have LOTS of delicious recipes I have been waiting to share with you!

This summer I have really enjoyed experimenting with new homemade salad dressings (like this fabulous red pepper jelly vinaigrette). After perusing the ingredient list in pre-packaged dressings, I decided it would be worth the extra few minutes it takes to whip up my own. If I am running low on time, I really enjoy a simple toss of balsamic vinegar and olive oil to do the trick. But, one of the best parts about today’s recipe is that it makes a large quantity, so you can store it in the fridge and use it for weeks to come. Dedicate 5 minutes to making this once a month and you won’t have to use the store-bought stuff anymore. It’s a pretty good deal, don’t you agree?

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This dressing is flavorful but works with any combination of vegetables you can throw together. Consider it your blank canvas, knowing whatever you decide to add to it will pair beautifully. A little tiny bit also goes a long way. Seriously–just a spoonful should be plenty for a large salad!

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A few weeks ago I had a friend over and we ate this salad before we went swimming, and it was perfect. Light but filling, the addition of chickpeas was ideal to boost the staying power of the dish. In the salad was spring mix, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and a sprinkle of reduced-fat feta cheese. It reminded me of a blend between an Italian and Greek salad, and it was so refreshing!

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Creamy Garlic Dressing

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3-5 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp honey or agave

1). Place all ingredients in blender (or food processor) and blend on medium high for 30 seconds or until well mixed. Store excess in an airtight container in refrigerator. If dressing solidifies when cold, let sit at room temperature until liquid, then stir. Enjoy!

Servings: 16 (1 tbsp per serving)

Nutritional Information per Serving: Calories: 68 Carbs: 1g Fat: 7g Protein: 0g Sugar: 1g Fiber: 0g

WW PointsPlus: 2