Christmas Wreath Salad with Cranberry Orange Vinaigrette

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(Mama Becky)

I’ve been mulling over this year’s Christmas Dinner Menu for our big blended family.  My goal is always to use recipes that are delicious, tasty, and pretty — but are no-brainers to make and serve.

For the main dishes, I  decided on my never0fail, always juicy slices of Tri-Tip roast in au jus; and a nice center cut of grilled Norwegian salmon from Whole Foods, our favorite cut of fish.  This should please the beef eaters and the fish eaters alike.

I recently discovered some delicate, amazing-tasting fresh “pasta purses” stuffed with cheeses and truffles at, of all places, Sam’s Club.   After cooking them in boiling water, I gently ladled  them into a quick rich sauce made of cream, a little garlic, Parmesan cheese and basil. To. Die. For.  And silly easy.  I now have my perfect fancy-but-simple Christmas side dish to put on the menu.

Finally, to add some freshness and crunch to round out the meal,  I thought I’d make a salad.  But I didn’t want an old boring salad.  Then -  faster than a speeding reindeer it came to me! I’d make a Christmas Wreath Salad.  I’d arrange the greens on a plate like a wreath, dot it with red berries, both fresh and dried, sprinkle with nuts and top with  feta cheese “snow” and tuck a bow at the bottom of the plate.  Then, what could be more festive to drizzle on this pretty salad than a vinaigrette inspired by my favorite cranberry-orange relish?

As I write this, it seems the whole country is blanketed with snow and ice. Here in Denver  it is a balmly… 1 degree.  Our front yard proved to be the perfect place to chill the salad and snap some photos.  Let me assure, I didn’t dawdle with the camera outside for long. In fact this was probably the fastest — and coldest – food photography session I’ve ever done.  Greg and I sampled this trial-run salad as a one bowl supper tonight by topping it with some warm, sliced deli roast chicken.  Big, Holly Jolly win.

By the way, if you are looking for an uplifting, fun gift for teachers, girlfriends, moms, grandmas or cooks in your family … may we suggest copies of We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook?

We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook - Gift Wrapped

Our memoir is truly one of those perfect, generic, happy gifts that anyone on your list will enjoy.  The recipes at the end of each chapter add extra value.  The book is available online everywhere, and in most bookstores; but if you would like an autographed, wrapped copy check out Rachel’s last blog post with instructions on how to contact us.

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Christmas Wreath Salad with Cranberry Orange Vinaigrette

 Ingredients:

About 4 to 5 cups of salad greens (I used chopped romaine and arranged spinach leaves on top of the “wreath mounds)

½ cup of whole nuts (I used pecans and pistachios)

¼ cup of dried red berries – cherries or cranberries

½ cup of fresh red  berries – slice strawberries or pitted fresh cherries

1/3 cup crumbled feta or goat cheese (or if you prefer, grated white cheddar, parmesan, swiss or other white cheese)

Directions:

On a large round plate, put a small bowl for the salad dressing in the middle.  Arrange salad greens around the bowl to make a “wreath”, then dot the wreath with nuts, dried berries and fresh betters.  Finally sprinkle with feta “snow”.    Fill the bowl in the middle with the following vinaigrette and serve chilled.

wreath salad 005

Cranberry Orange Vinaigrette

1 cup fresh  cranberries
1 medium navel orange or 2-3 clementines, peeled and broken apart
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup red wine or balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon mustard
1 teaspoon grated onion  or dried minced onion

½ t. garlic powder
2/3  cup olive oil

Directions:

Put all ingredients into a blender or food processor and process until smooth, and turns a gorgeous raspberry red.  Keep in fridge until ready to serve.

wreath salad 003


Double Chocolate Berry Nut Muffins

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(Becky, the Mama.)

Food memoirist Alyssa Shelasky described her mother as being a strict health-nut (who’d never eat anything that would “tick off Michael Pollan”), before being green and organic was cool. Alyssa’s school lunches were healthy leftovers like chicken salad and fruit, with notes of hand-written inspiration tucked into the brown bag. Nary a Dorito or Slim Jim in site.  And yet, even this Whole Foods Mama had a daily vice.  Every morning alongside with her cup of milky white tea, she ate a chocolate packaged snack cake filled with goopy marshmallow cream. Yes, she ate a Devil Dog.

In her defense she ate one and only one.  Every single day.  For  sixty years.  Without guilt.

Later in the day, Alyssa’s mom would  walk to the Farmer’s Market, loaded down with fresh veggies, enjoying every antioxidant-filled bite.

Now that Hostess has gone out of business, a box of Devil Dogs can be found on the internet for about $35.00 a box.  “Freshness guaranteed.”   (Presumably because they are so rich in chemicals, they are guaranteed to last forever.)

Though I draw the line at Twinkies and Devil Dogs for breakfast (even if I could afford such luxuries), I’m all in favor of making Chocolate a breakfast food.

To that end, I offer you this recipe for  Double Chocolate Berry Nut Muffins.  If I’d had blueberries or dark cherries on hand, I would have used those in this muffin. What I did have on hand was strawberries and kiwis, so improviser that I am… into the bowl they went. I’ve never let lack of correct ingredients stop me from whipping up a recipe.  I once made a carrot cake without any carrots, subbing zucchini and crushed pineapple.  It was delicious.

The result of my experiment was a just-right sweet muffin made moist from the coconut oil, Greek yogurt and fruit, chocolaty from cocoa and chocolate chips, with a nice crunch from chopped pecans.  I used white whole wheat flour  (which has the same nutritional value as whole wheat flour, but is made from white instead of red wheat);  and organic unprocessed sugar to ease my conscience even more.

So, okay, I’m not ready to declare these chocolate muffins a “health food.”  But hey, they are no Devil Dogs.

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Double Chocolate Berry Muffins

Makes 2 dozen regular muffins, and one pan of miniature muffins

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Ingredients

2 ¼ c whole wheat white flour ( I used King Arthur brand)

1 ¼ c.  organic sugar

½ c. unsweetened cocoa powder (if you like extra dark chocolate use dark chocolate cocoa)

2 t. baking power

1 t. baking soda

¾ t. salt

1 cup Greek Yogurt, plain

½ cup milk or almond milk

1/3 cup coconut oil, melted if it is solidified

2 eggs

1 t. vanilla or almond extract

1 cup berries (blueberries don’t need chopped, but strawberries, cherries, raspberries or blackberries will need to be diced into about ¼ inch pieces.)

1 cup chocolate chips

½ c. to 1 c. chopped nuts

Directions

Sift and stir together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a separate large bowl, and make a well in the center; set aside.

Whisk together the yogurt, milk, coconut oil, eggs, and almond or vanilla extract in a bowl until evenly blended. Pour the yogurt mixture into the well, then stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Fold in the berries, nuts, and chocolate chips. Spoon into prepared muffin cups, filling half full. (I used cupcake liners.)

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Bake until a toothpick inserted into centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes.

Try with a little smear of Nutella;  or a slice of banana and peanut butter, or a spoon of cherry or strawberry preserves.  Heaven….

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This was printed from: We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook
The site URL: http://welaughwecrywecook.com
The Title:Double Chocolate Berry Muffins
The URL: http://wp.me/p1UwM9-RT
This was printed from: We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook


White Tea Fruit Slushies: My New Summer “Coffee”

Becky’s White Tea Fruit Slushy

Nobody loves the first sip of morning coffee like I do! In fact, I used to use this moment as an inspirational speech illustration on how to capture “Eden moments” in our lives.

Obviously we aren’t living in Eden anymore, but that does not mean we don’t get glimpses of Eden.   “The way we catch ‘Eden moments’,” I would say, “is the same way we acknowledge that first sip of good coffee in the morning.  Many of us audibly say, ‘Ahh, that’s good.’  The same way God paused and said, ‘It is good’ after every phase of creation. We live more meaningful lives by noticing small blessings and pausing, even a second, to say, ‘Ah, that’s good.’ String enough of these small moments of gratitude together and you will find yourself happier.”

I still believe this is true.  But this week,  I had my favorite illustration taken from me!  Due to a spike in blood pressure, I’m cutting out foods that may raise BP, and adding in foods that may lower it. One of the toughest things to give up was that sacred, holy, blessed… Cup o’ Morning Joe.

Since I, like most people, am more motivated by pleasure than I want to admit, I had to find a substitute morning beverage that would be worth getting out of bed for.   I’ve experimented with several alternatives. There was a canned non-caffeinated health/energy drink.  It tastes like chilled, diluted cough syrup.  No go.

I tried various mugs of green and white teas, hot, with honey. They were nice, but hardly exciting enough to compel me to crawl from under the sheets.

Not a fan of de-caf coffee.

Then it hit me.  Our cute local tea shop offers “tea slushies” during the summer months.  I love them but they are a bit too sweet, full of sugar.  I also need to add more berries and fruit in my diet, so I wondered about making a white tea berry slushy.  A little of this, and a pinch of that went into the blender and in no time, out came The Winner.  (Insert angel voices singing here.)   Meet my new morning beverage of choice.  So perfect for back porch sitting and sipping, that I often enjoy an afternoon tea slushy, too.

You’ll find me under the shade tree with my new icey-brew tomorrow, savoring a first sip and saying,   “Ahh.. that is good.”

P.S. I like both green and white teas, but have found white tea has a milder flavor and even more nutritional benefits.  White tea has been shown to fight cancer, help with weight loss, improve and protect the skin and the heart in a myriad of ways among many other benefits.  I often mix it with decaf black tea and sip on this all day.  Here’s an informative link: White Tea Information.

Becky's White Tea Fruit Slushy

Becky’s White Tea Fruit Slushy

Serves 2 large glasses, or 4 “wine” glasses

Ingredients

2 cups brewed white or green  tea, cooled  (made from 2 to 4 tea bags, depending on how strong you like it)

10 ounces (or a little over 1 cup) frozen berries, any kind

1/4 cup agave nectar or a tad of stevia or other sweetener of your choice

1/2 cup ice

Optional: citrus slices for garnish/flavor

Directions

Put all ingredients into a blender and whirl until slushy.  Serve immediately, garnishing with a slice of lime, lemon or orange if desired.

Variations: Try other teas. (A visit to a nice tea shop is like a visit to a cool wine bar these days!) Substitute other frozen fruits such as peaches, cherries, mangos or kiwis.   Even veggies like celery and cucumber would be refreshing.

This was printed from: We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook
The site URL: http://welaughwecrywecook.com
The Title: White Tea Fruit Slushies
The URL:http://wp.me/p1UwM9-jh


Kiwi-Strawberry Key Lime “Flower” Tarts (Vegan)

Becky’s Kiwi-Strawberry Key Lime “Flower” Tarts

Those of you who know me, or have been reading this blog, have probably discovered that although Rachel and I share a love of cooking and laughter, she’s definitely “Felix” and I am “Oscar” in this Mother-Daughter Odd Couple.

When she and her husband Jared were visiting us this year,Jared was hungry and so I told him,”Jared, just scrounge in the fridge! You never know what you’ll find in there.” To which Rachel instantly deadpanned,”Or what might jump out at you.” It wasn’t long before she offered to give me a hand cleaning out my fridge. At one point she held up a lime that was, okay, a little brownish-black, but I figured the juice might be salvageable.

“What’s this?” she asked, dubiously eying the shriveled citrus.

“It’s a lime,” I offered, hopefully.

She shook her head.  “Not a lime.”

“Not a lime?” I echoed.

“Not a lime.  Mom, face it. This thing died weeks ago, you just couldn’t bring yourself to bury it.  Grieve the lime and Let. It. Go.”

I sighed and let her toss it in the trashcan.

This week I sent Rachel the following picture of a lime that I found in the recesses of my kitchen.

“Not a lime.” Sigh.

To which she offered this advice. “Mom, when limes start looking like kiwis, they are no longer limes. Toss it out.”

But (and this is the way my ADD mind works), when she said “kiwi” and “lime” together in the same sentence, I started thinking how great those two flavors would taste together.  That rabbit trail led to others and finally to the creation of the following yummy, easy, tart, fresh and pretty dessert featuring kiwis and limes.

But do not worry: No dying limes were harmed in this recipe. In fact, it features a store-made lime product from Kroger’s. This “Preferred Selection” brand of jarred key lime pie filling is truly scrumptious:  tart and just-right-sweet, loaded with real key lime juice.  It also happens to be vegan.  You can make the shortbread cookie crumbs from scratch (see recipe) or if you are in a hurry, just put a few of your favorite store-purchased shortbread cookies in the food processor to make fine crumbs.

I served this to six women on my back porch today.  So pretty and refreshing–the kiwis look like the center of a flower, the strawberries make perfect “petals.”   And the women just nearly licked their sherbet bowls clean!

Kiwi-Strawberry Key Lime “Flower” Tarts

Kiwi-Strawberry Key Lime “Flower” Tarts

Ingredients

Shortbread Cookie Crumbs (See recipe below or purchase your favorite cookies and whirl in the blender to make 1 1/2 cups fine cookie crumbs. Add 1/4 c. melted butter and whirl again.)

Kroger’s Key Lime Pie Filling (or your favorite brand)

My favorite Key Lime Pie Filling in a Jar. Loaded with key lime juice! (Kroger’s brand, located near pie fillings on baking aisle.)

8 strawberries, sliced into “petals”

2 kiwis, peeled and sliced into rounds for centers of the flowers

To Assemble:

Put 3 T. of cookie crumbs in each of six small dessert bowls  (I used my old-fashioned sherbet bowls.) Using the back of a spoon press the crumbs around the bottom and sides to create a miniature tart shell.

Pressing crumbs into small dessert bowls with back of spoon

Spoon 2 to 3 Tablespoons of key lime pie filling over each shell, smoothing the top gently.

Arrange kiwi and strawberry slices into “flowers” as shown in the pictures.

I filled the bowls with the cookie crumbs (pressed against the sides) ahead of time, and then at the  very last minute — filled them with the filling and topped them with the fruit. (A volunteer to help you assemble is nice, and a fun way to chat in the kitchen while doing something creative together.)

Shortbread Cookie Crumbs (Vegan)

Heat oven to 350 degrees

1 c. flour (can be mixture of whole wheat and white)

1/2 cup Earth Balance Butter (you can use regular butter if you aren’t vegan and prefer it)

1/4 cup powdered sugar (or brown sugar for a darker more caramelized crust)

1/2 c. finely chopped walnuts or pecans

Directions:

Pulse the first 3 ingredients in the food processor (or use your hands to blend). Add nuts.  Pat or roll the dough onto a cookie sheet that has been sprayed with cooking spray.  Dough can be any shape or form, just make the giant free from “cookie” about 1/3 inch thick. Bake  10 to 15 minutes or until light golden brown.  Let cool completely.   Break up the shortbread and pop it back in the food processor to make fine crumbs.

This was printed from: We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook
The site URL: http://welaughwecrywecook.com
The Title: Kiwi-Strawberry Key Lime “Flower” Tarts (Vegan)
The URL: http://wp.me/p1UwM9-iN


Strawberries Romanoff

When my daughter Rachel was about three or four,  I jotted down some of the adorable phrases and words that I loved to hear her say.  “Tears” were called “cwy dwips” (cry drips), and a “suitcase” was a “cuse box.”  Her  word for “strawberries” was “STA-biddies” which I still remember her saying, her whispy blond hair blowing around her as she bit into the ripe fruit, grinning while sweet red juices rolled down her chin.

Well, “sta-biddies” are in abundance now, and on sale today!

When I saw them overflowing the grocery display, my mind drifted to  Strawberries Romanoff, a delectable concoction of strawberries served under a creamy fluff of brown-sugar cream, spiked with brandy, rum or bourbon.   I first tasted this summer dream treat at La Madeleines, a wonderful French cafe, popular in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.  Whenever I visit Rachel in Texas,  we do our best to go to lunch at La Madeleines and I always order Strawberries Romanoff for dessert.

Last summer,  when my mom was visiting Denver,  I tweaked and combined a few recipes I found online and produced this version of Romanoff cream  which we like even better than the dish from La Madeleines!  Mom and I sat around the kitchen counter and licked the bowl completely clean!

It only takes about five minutes to make the sauce, making this an easy, refreshing and beautiful dessert for these long Spring and Summer evenings.  It looks oh so elegant, too.

Becky’s Strawberries Romanoff

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 c. whipping cream

6 T.  powdered sugar

1 c. Greek Yogurt, plain (may also use sour cream)

6 T. brown  sugar (Plus a T. more for garnish)

2 T. bourbon (or scotch, rum, brandy or your favorite liquor; or 1 T. vanilla or rum extract if you prefer non-alcoholic)

2 pints fresh strawberries, hulled and rinsed (You may keep them whole, or slice them, your preference. If they are tart, you may want to sprinkle a bit of sugar on them as well to sweeten them up some.)

Directions:

In a medium mixing bowl, whip cream into soft peaks, slowly adding powdered sugar to the whipped mixture.

In a separate smaller bowl, whisk together Greek Yogurt, 1/3 c. brown sugar and bourbon.

Add yogurt mixture to whipped cream and fold in until well combined.

To serve, spoon strawberries into martini glasses, about 2/3 full, place generous dollop (about 1/3 c.)  of Romanoff sauce over top of each.   Sprinkle a little bit of brown sugar over the sauce for garnish.  

Variations:   You can also layer the strawberries and sauce in parfait like fashion.   Big wine glasses, or pretty bowls can also work in place of martini glasses.  The powdered sugar helps  the cream hold its shape so that it will keep for a couple of days in a sealed container.  One of the reasons I always used powdered sugar instead of granulated when I make whipped cream.

Veganize This: Try coconut milk “whipped cream” and any of the many varieties of plain non-dairy yogurt.

This was printed from: We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook
The site URL: http://welaughwecrywecook.com
The Title: Stawberries Romanoff
The URL:http://welaughwecrywecook.com/2012/03/23/strawberries-romanoff/
© Copyright 2012 – All Rights Reserved


Refreshing “Lemon Drop” Berries, Walnut & Greens Salad

Not long ago, I enthusiastically wound up my Cuisinart salad spinner, a gift from my efficient salad-loving daughter. What I did not do was read the instructions, which I’m now guessing said something like, “Wait until the inner whirling colander comes to a complete halt before removing the lid.” If you remove the lid early in the spinning process, I can testify that you will immediately give your entire kitchen, including ceiling and floor, a certain lettuce-based Rain Forest look. However, if you use it correctly, a salad spinner is quite the nifty item to dry the lettuce mix for this recipe below, one of my favorite salads.

The “dressing” is mixed as you toss the salad, no need for a separate bowl.

Becky’s
Refreshing “Lemon Drop” Berries, Walnut & Greens Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients

4 to 6 cups of early spring mix lettuce (rinsed, patted, or spun dry)
½ c. toasted walnuts or pecans

1/2 c. fresh blueberries
1/2 c. sliced fresh strawberries
Juice of one small lemon or ½ large lemon
Olive oil (about 2 T. or to taste)
Sea salt (to taste)
Organic sugar (to taste)
(Blue cheese , feta, goat cheese or  Gorgonzola crumbles can also be added if you want a heartier salad.)

Directions

In a large salad bowl place the greens, berries and toasted nuts. Squeeze juice of one small lemon over all. Toss. Sprinkle the leaves with sea salt and sugar to taste.  (Hint from professional chefs: salad always tastes better and you use less dressing if you lightly salt the greens just before serving.) Toss. Finally squiggle about 1-2 Tablespoons of olive oil. (My good friend Lucille gave me a bottle of Meyer Lemon Olive Oil featured in the picture- so good in this recipe!) Toss gently again. This is a taste-as-you-go salad. The dressing should taste sweet & sour — like lemonade or “lemon drops” — with just enough salt and olive oil to make it savory.

This salad is a light go-to side dish that goes especially well with heavier main dishes. Once you get the method down, it is also one of the fastest, easiest salads you can throw together – and everyone loves it!  Try using sliced green or red apples or sliced peaches in place place of berries, for a salad that refreshes in all seasons.

I made a huge version of this salad on a big oval platter fothe holiday. Not a drop of salad left, and it was so beautiful. Looked like a Spring garden! Added some goat cheese to this version. Yum!

This was printed from: We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook
The site URL: http://welaughwecrywecook.com
The Title: Refreshing “Lemon Drop” Berries, Walnut & Greens Salad
The URL: http://welaughwecrywecook.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/refreshing-lemon-drop-apple-walnut-greens-salad/
© Copyright 2012 – All Rights Reserved


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