wilted beet salad

One summer, when I was much younger, my family stayed on a farm way out in the country for a couple of months. We had been living in an expansive trailer park that was more like a factory farm of metal boxes lined up on cement. Going from that broiler oven to being surrounded by luxurious fields, a huge yard filled with trees and secret places to hide away in and visit with fairies and other imaginary friends was nothing short of miraculous. I was enchanted – there were raspberry bushes and strawberry patches and mulberry trees, swings and chickens and a *gigantic* woodpile that was reborn into a magnificent fortress that my brothers and I defended form the wrath of the two angry geese who patrolled the back yard.

One day I remember Jan (for that is the woman of the place’s name) telling me that men don’t often notice cobwebs behind doors, but most women do and that’s why you must be careful to always dust behind the doors. We were preparing for a Tea that she was hosting at the farm and she and my mother were busy cleaning and cooking and getting things ready for the afternoon. I was so excited, being under the age of ten and longing desperately for the prestige and privilege of a grown up woman, I had been included in the Tea. Mom and Jan were always willing to involve me in their womanly activities, letting me sit up with them at night and talk about the deep things in life over tea while the lightning bugs filled the fields like fallen stars and crickets serenaded us from under the porch windows. I felt grown up in all the ways that mattered to me at the time and it satisfied me tremendously.

I don’t really remember how the Tea that we were preparing for came off, my young mind fixed on one dish in particular that was being mixed together in the big, old kitchen and everything else remains a happy blur.  This was the first time I had a Wilted Salad. I haunted the kitchen even then, feeling that room contained all the important business of the house. Jan mixed together a warm salad of greens, bacon, vinegar and sweetening and it tasted like heaven to me.

Over the years we have repeated her recipe, adjusting it and adapting it to different greens and not always saving it for special occasions! This is an excellent side dish to throw together for any summer dinner. It tastes like that sweet and tart time in life when I was so young and yearning to be so much older.

Wilted Spinach and Beet Salad

3 red beets (with or without their greens)

1 lb  raw spinach

1/4- 1/2 lb bacon (depending on how much you like)

1 medium onion, sliced

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1-2 tablespoons of honey, brown sugar or maple syrup

Firstly, cook the beets and their greens if you have decided to use them. I like to boil mine in their jackets. Once they are cooked, slip them out of their coats and chop them into bite-sized pieces. If you are using the greens (which should be boiled with the beets until tender) chop them up too.

In a *big* skillet, fry up your bacon until it is crisp, drain most of the fat away then add the onions and let them cook until they get slightly clear. Add the vinegar and sweetener and let it all simmer together for several minutes before dumping in your chopped beets and their greens. It’s really starting to smell good now!

Wash your spinach and drain it,  then pile it on top of the dressing in the skillet and cover for about five minutes. The heat will start to wilt your spinach and then you can begin to mix everything together. Turn off the heat and stir until the dressing has completely covered the spinach. The spinach shouldn’t be soggy and cooked, just wilted.

Serve immediately and Enjoy!

Not Your Mother’s Tuna Salad

 

I don’t make tuna salad like anyone else I have ever known, not even my own mother. I don’t remember having tuna salad sandwiches much growing up, probably because my small herd of younger brothers considered it to be a ‘Girl Food’ and disliked tuna in general unless it was thoroughly hidden in a thick casserole of egg noodles, creamy white sauce and cheese.

I moved from my family’s home to my husband’s without a lot of thought thrown towards cold salad sandwiches, I was more intent on trying to impress my dearly beloved with good roasts and fluffy pancakes. One day, early on in the marriage, he requested tuna salad for dinner. Thinking back on it now, I do believe it was the first food he asked for as a married man and I remember my wifely heart sinking a little.

“Tuna salad – really?” I didn’t even remember how to make a tuna salad.

“Oh yeah, tuna salad. With pickles and artichokes…” My husband licked his lips and wandered out of the kitchen, leaving me in dumb bewilderment. Pickles and artichokes? In a tuna salad? But how? What’s an artichoke?

Let me remind my dear reader that this was slightly before the Great Revelation that he didn’t really care for Butter – something which he very neatly announced at dinner one evening and nearly made me choke on my own life’s breath – so I wasn’t yet *fully* acquainted with my new husband’s eating preferences. There’s so much adjusting that goes on in those first few months, it’s a little dizzying and love truly makes the dance worth while.

I got out my mixing bowls, some cans of tuna and anything else in the cupboard I thought seemed appropriate. In the very back I found a can of quartered artichoke hearts, and hidden in the far reaches of the refrigerator I found a half-eaten jar of pickles, some mayo and then I had at it.

Fifteen nerve-wracking minutes later (give or take a few) and I was serving Alex the strangest tuna salad that ever was seen on this or any other planet and let me tell you what – it was awesome. I’ve been making tuna salad a’la Alex for over a year now, almost monthly as it is one of his most favorite things to eat, and we’ve tweaked the recipe into a true Gaylor Family Heirloom.  Are you brave enough to try it?

 

Tuna Salad with Pickles and Artichokes

2 cans of white tuna (packed in water) – drained

2 spears kosher dill pickles, chopped into small pieces

1/4 cup finely diced onion

4-5 quarters of canned artichoke hearts, chopped

1/2- 2/3 cup mayonnaise  (make sure to use the real stuff – no Miracle Whip!)

1 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning  (generic, salt-less blend available at the grocery store)

*anything else*

This includes (but is surely not limited to):

Chopped tomato, diced celery, chopped sweet pepper, chopped olives or avocado chunks. Instead of the seasoning, you could use a tablespoon or more of your favorite salad dressing – Italian, Caesar, French, Balsamic… the sky’s the limit. We’ve tried about every combination of additions and find it hard to make something that isn’t tasty.

Dump ALL of your ingredients into a bowl and mix them together well. I usually add the mayonnaise last because depending on what else we’ve tossed in I might need a little more or less. We are not ones to like our tuna salad on the sloppy side, so I tend to go light on the mayo, but that’s just us.

There are about as many methods of consuming this food as there are of preparing it. We like to eat it late at night, squeezing too much between two slices of homemade bread – what a mess! Or we eat it on top of a green salad, or stuffed in a hollowed-out tomato, or scoop generous bites of it up with crackers while watching movies. It’s an easy, satisfying sort of meal that I would never have truly appreciated had it not been for my husband’s rather odd request. So there you go!  I suppose there isn’t anything “too strange” to try, at least in the kitchen…

 

because it’s the right thing to do

There is something so *Right* about family traditions.

Every family has its own web of traditions that is uniquely their own. No one really knows how they start but we all think that ours are the best and *most* unique and relish in the annual opportunity to drag them out, dust them off and use them as the foundation of our festivities.

Cranberry Molded Salad is such a tradition for my family. It seems a really common sort of tradition when you first look at it, but when you remember that no two families ever make their cranberry salads alike, it becomes something reminiscent of the ancient clans of Scotland with their intricate family tartans. You bind yourself to your family’s recipe with a fierce and nearly blind loyalty – nothing will EVER taste as good as what you had growing up. It’s a bit of an unspoken rule we whisper to our babies on their first Thanksgivings, cementing the truth that this is the Only Legitimate Cranberry Salad on Earth, accept no substitutes.

I’ve been at family gatherings where a tart jelly is served in a ridged roll, slid from out of a can. It’s tradition for them and their mouths water at the sight of it’s crimson self, quivering and glistening in the holiday lighting. I’ve seen it made with jello and chopped carrots and even marshmallows, I’ve seen it scoop-able and pour-able and even non-existent.

Every year I can remember, I have eaten my mother’s cranberry molded salad at Thanksgiving – not really a relish, definitely not a sauce but absolutely the perfect foil to the rich line up of foods that tradition orders on that holiday. We never vary, we never waver, we never subtract or substitute. There must be cranberry molded salad, we must all have a hand in making it and it must be eaten almost as an after thought. We eat it with seconds and for days thereafter in sandwiches and with leftovers. It is the last dish to be scraped clean, after we have been thoroughly saturated with Thanksgiving goodness.

Every year, without fail, my mother says something to the effect of, “Why don’t we ever make this any other time of the year, we like it so much…” and every year we all wonder for a minute about what would happen if one of our holiday foods were to escape and wander into July or March and we realize that it would be Wrong. We eat cranberry molded salad at Thanksgiving. It’s our tradition and it’s a good one. Let’s not tamper with it.

 

The Best Cranberry Molded Salad Ever

2 bags fresh cranberries, washed

2 whole oranges, washed

4 apples, cored

4 packages unflavored gelatin

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup cold water

1 cup boiled water

1/4 cup lime juice

 

This makes enough to feed a small army.

We like *our* recipe because it’s actually rather healthy for you. The fruits aren’t cooked and that means they are still in possession of their enzymes, making it the perfect thing to finish that incredibly filling meal with. That’s why we eat it last. Aha.

In a food processor, you are going to grind the cranberries, apples and oranges ( skin and all, folks!) together then dump the whole lot into a big mixing bowl. In a small bowl, add the cold water to your gelatin and let it soften. Stir the sugar into the ground fruit *well*  and add the lime juice. Once the gelatin is soft, add the boiled water and dissolve completely. Add this to the fruit blend and stir again. Cover and put in the fridge to ‘set’. This can be made a day or more in advance, it will keep quite nicely!

I’m not sharing this recipe with the suggestion that anyone should try it in lieu of their own, perhaps this could be your Fourth of July side dish and it will see other parts of the year, something it never would be able to do in our house.

At any rate, enjoy your festivities this week – eat heartily and be at peace!

 

company’s comin’ Potato Salad

Our short little table was adorned with a patchwork of vintage linens and a clearance April Cornell table cloth. Spare chairs were summoned from the far corners of our fair home and the entire dining/living room had been rearranged in a an attempt to make room for company.

Our guest list had only two names on it, but that is reason enough for a little bit of grandeur here on Park Street, and I worried about the table legs which always seem to be in the way of ours. We did our best to cool the place down for the evening and I sweated away in our room-sized oven of a kitchen, cooking away.

I love entertaining – I always stress and fuss way too much and practically drive myself and the surrounding husband crazy in my effort to have everything ‘just so’. Under it all, however, is this deliciously deep satisfaction at having people come to our home and enjoy themselves.  It isn’t grand, it isn’t showy and the table legs definitely get in the way, but it’s ours and we love it, and I love to welcome people into it and give them good food.

The menu was braised chicken breast sandwiches with tomato, mayo and garden-fresh lettuce, a huge fruit salad (served in a carved-out watermelon because we *ARE* that stinking cute) and a potato salad, with ice cream for dessert.

This potato salad is one that I loosely translated from my husband’s dear grandma’s salad. While we were in Maine visiting YiaYia and Papoo, she served us a potato salad that I ate an embarrassingly large amount of. It was incredible and when I asked her how she made it, she shrugged and said, “A little of this and a little of that!” She did go into the details that I was craving and I tried my best to remember it. Ever since then I have been itching at the chance to make one and try my hand at it.

They say never to make something for the first time for company, but really, what do ‘they’ know?  Never having been one for listening to the random voices of the universe, I dived in and made my first potato salad as a married woman, YiaYia’s spoken recipe in the back of my head leading me onward – – –


Potato Salad

4 red potatoes, boiled

5 green onions, diced

1/2 sweet red pepper, diced

2 tablespoons fresh chopped dill

1 tablespoon fresh chopped mint

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1/2 cup mayo

salt and pepper to taste

The simplicity of this salad is its perfection. As I said before, this is not her exact recipe, but I’d never heard of using mint in a potato salad and it was awesome.  Also, she used red potatoes, which keep their shape well and have an excellent texture. I liked the waxiness of them. The bit of vinegar (her suggestion) cuts the mayo and brightens the salad.

YUM.

The potatoes got chopped into small bite-sized pieces and then mixed with the rest of the ingredients. I made it ahead of time to let the flavors meld together and I think next time I will make it even further ahead, like over night.

My-oh-my was it good!

We had a delightful evening with our guests, everything went swimmingly – everyone enjoyed their meal and didn’t knock their knees too badly. I’d say it was a success!

Maple Pear Chicken Salad

I need someone to name these recipes for me because I stink at it…

I made this up for the Man today, and it was hit so I thought I would share it with y’all.

Maple Pear Chicken Salad

1 8oz boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into three or four pieces

1/2 sweet red pepper, chopped

1 tsp minced garlic

1 bartlett pear, peeled, cored and sliced thinly

3 Tbsp pure maple syrup

1-3 tsp butter or olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

lettuce for the bed

This is a terribly quick and simple meal to make up since I fixed it while getting my bread ready to rise for the day, doing dishes and had entered the final countdown before Alex had to get ready for work.

In a frying pan, over medium heat, I put the sliced pear, maple syrup, butter, garlic and half of the red pepper. Once those things had started to simmer together, I added the chicken pieces and covered the whole bit, then let it cook ten minutes or so while I chopped the lettuce and set the table.

Since stove settings very, make sure the chicken has cooked all the way through. If it starts to get a little dry, add a few tablespoons of water or broth, but if it’s covered, it should stay moist enough.

I put some chicken and a helping of the hot ‘sauce’ on the lettuce that I tossed with the rest of the pepper, it wilted it a little and – viola! Lunch was served…

Sweet, salty, mapley, garlicky – absolutely packed with flavor, we have a winner.

Yum.

I know this meal isn’t in the Great Chicken Challenge- but it certainly could be. It fits all the criteria – easy, cheap, tasty and happily healthy.

Served 2 people; 20 minutes to make

Per serving:

280 calories (under 300 – yay!)

cost roughly $2.25 cents

This would be delicious with spinach instead of romaine or iceberg lettuce, or adorned with some chopped walnuts… be creative – it’s your meal, Enjoy!

Bring Your Own Dressing

I have good news – the woolen underwear is officially being moved to the back shelf of the closet. You know as well as I that this means Winter has finally left the Green Mountains and we have a brief but blissful run of good weather to look forward to. This isn’t the only sign of Summer to be seen; trees have greened, the roadsides are crowded with the faces of eager wildflowers and town greens and city parks are filling up with tents and stands on the weekends – Farmer’s Markets are back in session.

After banishing the winter clothing, my all-time favorite warm weather activity is wandering around at Farmer’s Markets, and we have some wonderful local markets to wander! This is the time in the season when vendor’s stands are usually overflowing with vibrant, fresh-picked greens in all shapes and sizes; spicy Arugula, mild baby spinach, tender Butter Crunch, the ever-elegant Deer Tongue, and an array of wild greens and herbs – I am terribly tempted to bring my salad dressing with me and dine out  – one salad to go, please! After a long winter of store-bought iceberg lettuce, I am practically starved for fresh greens and the sight of them in lovely rows on market benches makes my heart want to skip a beat, and then dig in for lunch…

If I were going to bring my own dressing (I think this could become a popular way to do summer parties – a BYOD salad bar…) I would definitely choose this one, Strawberry Balsamic Dressing. Not only is it exceedingly delicious, but it’s so simple to make and takes about five minutes – Tops. I call it a dressing, but it’s really more of a glaze, which means that the consistency is such that it really holds onto the greens, making every bite a Flavor Explosion. One of our local markets has recently announced that their strawberries are ripe and for the picking, and how perfect is that? Fresh local greens with a homemade, fresh strawberry dressing -it’s a match made in Vermont Summer Food Heaven!

 

Spring Greens with Strawberry Balsamic Dressing

1/2 cup crushed strawberries

2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 Tablespoon water

1 teaspoon sugar or honey

1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger

salt and pepper to taste

A Mix of Fresh Spring Greens

The strawberries, balsamic vinegar and ginger mingle together into a tart, spicy, sweet sort of sauce that perfectly compliments the sturdy texture and often piquant flavor of early greens.

I threw all the ingredients in the bowl of my dear little food processor and zinged away until everything was well blended and then tossed a bit of with my salad greens. Viola! I told you it would be quick! It should be the consistency of a creamy dressing, but it has the health benefits of a vinaigrette, the calorie count being less than 55 calories per serving (2-3 Tablespoons).

This recipe could easily be adapted throughout the summer to showcase different  fruits as they come into their season. Once the strawberries have faded, how about using farm fresh raspberries, or wild blueberries and then ripe peaches? The possibilities are nearly endless.

The salad mix I used included young dandelion greens, baby romaine, two types of oak-leaf lettuce, young swiss chard greens and baby spinach, but feel free to mix your own depending on what the local markets are offering. I have found that if you aren’t sure about the flavor of a certain type of green, the vendor will usually let you have a taste. They are as eager to have their customers enjoy the product as they are for them to purchase it and they love introducing people to the goodness of fresh produce.

So be bold – go wander your local market and see what has sprung up with the fair skies and warmer temperatures. Just be sure to bring your dressing with you when you go!

it’s pasta – it’s salad – no, it’s PASTA SALAD

And it’s what we had for dinner last night.

Alex just started his turn on second shift, which means the dreaded nights are over.

*loud, joyous sounds of celebration cue NOW*

He gets home between 10:30 and 11:00 and then I have him all night long – oh, my life has gotten so much better! I love having him home! – it’s delightful to wake up next to him and then have breakfast with him, and it’s lunch time before he has to rush off and save the world. I *love* it.

It’s a busy shift, so he isn’t always able to come home and eat for dinner during work which means we find ourselves eating fashionably late nowadays – I like it.

Let’s face it, I’m just happy about the whole arrangement.

Last night we had pasta salad, my first attempt at transitioning from ‘cold weather foods’ to ‘hot weather foods’ and it was pretty stinkin’ easy.

1/2 pound of penne pasta, boiled and then chilled

cherry tomatoes, sliced

black olives, sliced

a very small onion, diced

some orange pepper, chopped

a crumbling of feta cheese

fresh spinach torn into bite-sized pieces

some of my homemade Greek dressing

Toss. Eat. The End.