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.

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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.

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Orange Glazed Carrots

Orange Glazed Carrots

Is anyone old enough or blessed enough to remember going to a grandma’s house after church on Sunday for a roast chicken or roast beef, usually served with glazed carrots,  mashed potatoes and gravy, her homemade rolls, sliced tomatoes from the garden,  and cold cucumbers served in a sweet-sour vinegar?  Perhaps a little relish tray with olives or miniature sweet pickles.  Maybe followed up with nana puddin’ or peach cobbler. (Or is this just a figment of our collective nostalgic imaginations?)

As tired as I am after church on Sunday, I feel like Super Woman if I can just get some sandwiches on a plate for the two of us before I lapse into a nap. I am amazed that there were women who used to pull this big dinner feat off, and some of them did it weekly!

In Glen Rose, Texas there was a wonderful place called Two Grannies.  I wish we had one here in Colorado.  When you walked into the old-time dining room,  you were greeted by two grandmotherly sisters in flower print dresses who owned the restaurant. Nobody got in or out of the place without a hug.  And you didn’t say “no” because one of the grannies was a big as a middle linebacker.  Someone was always at the piano playing old show tunes or hymns.  And there was one old fellow who would come in now and again, dressed in striped overalls, who would astound the kids by whistling exactly like an old train. The whole place was just like going to grandmas house on Sunday, families greeting each other and chatting from table to table.  I believe  one of the grannies finally moved on to Glory,  but  the two of them left a lot of love and sweet memories — living out their golden years giving people hugs and a good home-cooked meal.  Can’t get much better than that.

I have discovered, on those rare Sundays when I feel my “Inner Granny” coming on and invite family or company over after church,  that a roast chicken and roast beef are the two easiest things to make for a crowd. (Recipe for my garlic roast chicken coming up later this week.) Nothing simpler than plopping an easily seasoned roast or chicken in the oven, then heading off to church and returning to your main dish already cooked and scenting the air as you walk in the door.  One of my favorite side dishes to serve with a savory juicy roast chicken is sweet, buttery orange glazed carrots.  Just carrots plus three ingredients, but it is so good you may decide to skip the nana puddin’ and eat a bowl of carrots for dessert instead.

Orange Glazed Carrots

Becky’s Orange Glazed Carrots

Ingredients

2 c. diced or mini carrots plus 1 T. water

1/2 c. orange juice

1/4 c. brown sugar

1 T. butter (vegans use Earth Balance)

sea salt to taste

Directions

Put the carrots and a tablespoon of water in a tightly covered microwave proof dish and nuke for about 12 minutes or until just tender.  (You can also steam them if you prefer.)

While the carrots are cooking, put orange juice, brown sugar and butter into a pan on the stove top.  Turn burner on high until it reaches a boil, then turn down to a simmer and simmer for about six minutes or until the mixture  reduces and starts to get syrupy. Add the cooked carrots to the orange syrup and simmer just a minute or two more until carrots are coated with thick buttery syrup, and taste like heaven.

Cook until syrupy and tender carrots are well coated.

Sprinkle with a little sea salt and serve.

Glazed carrots: a colorful, sweet-savory side dish fit for any Granny Meal.