Monthly Archives: January 2013

Quick,No-Cut-out Football Cookies/+Vegan version/Lactose free

It’s countdown to Superbowl and if you want a simple, (no electric mixer needed), quick, delicious, ball-shaped cookie that you don’t have to chill, roll and cutout, do I have a recipe for you!

These delicious quick and easy  no-mixer-needed cookies are always a huge hit

These delicious quick and easy no-mixer-needed cookies are always a huge hit

[Cut-out cookie recipes can be found in here the October Archives. Oval or egg-shaped cookie cutters will make a decent substitute for football-shaped cutters.

And although you can have these ready in a short amount of time, they are even better tasting after they have aged a few days, so you can make these ahead of time for Superbowl Sunday, or any time.

The simple recipe below was my mother’s most requested recipe and mine, too. Because it came form an old cookbook of my aunt’s,( that my sister made off with when she was little because she liked to look at the pictures it contained), my mother would give away the recipe….as printed.
I will also give you the little tweaks that make these perfect.

My family makes these in the original round shape for any time of the year. My mother would at times add English, (regular) walnuts. At Christmastime, she made some with Black walnuts and some she iced with peppermint icing, (my sister’s favorite; I like them plain).

I expected to feel a slap from beyond the grave when I relented to teenagers’ pressure and added chocolate chips to the cookies, but no. The cookies were good, but I think it’s overkill. And I experimented with a bit of espresso powder added; they were nice, but I have gone back to plain, and everyone is happy.

Here you go:
Chocolate Drop Cookies
2 squares of unsweetened baking chocolate {I prefer Baker’s (brand) and that is all my mother ever used.
OR you can use 2 ”premelted” baking chocolate that comes in packets
½ cup (one stick) butter or margarine
1 cup of sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
2 cups of all-purpose flour
½ cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F.
Melt the butter or margarine and baking chocolate together, preferably over boiling water.[Make a double boiler out of a metal or ceramic bowl that sits into,(but not all the way down), in a small pan of boiling water], OR melt slowly in a heavy pan over low heat stirring almost constantly. Do not let the butter or margarine turn brown or the chocolate scorch . You can melt these in the microwave but it is preferable for them to be very hot and general directions for melting these in a microwave are to partially melt them then remove and stir to melt completely. (If using the pre-melted chocolate, just melt and heat the butter or margarine completely and add the chocolate after adding the butter/margarine).

Put the sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add the hot butter/margarine and chocolate,(if squares were used and melted); mix well; the sugar will semi-melt; this is good.(Now add the pre-melted chocolate, if that is what you used). Add the milk and vanilla to cool the mixture, then add the egg.(Don’t add the egg first or it will solidify; it will cook in the hot mixture). Sprinkle in the baking soda and mix well, then slowly stir the flour in, about ¼ cup at a time, to keep it from lumping. If it still lumps, try to beat most of them out with your (preferably wooden)spoon. If lumps are very small, don’t be concerned.
(If you wish to add nuts or chips, fold them in now. I suggest that you do not add anything if you want the cookies to be ball-shaped.)
Now, let the dough sit for just a few minutes while you prepare the baking sheets.[Grease them , use baking spray or line them with parchment paper.] Just a minute or two of sitting will allow the flour to absorb the moisture and the dough will become stiff enough to make the cookies.

To make traditionally round cookies: using a teaspoon, pick up half to a full teaspoonful and , using your opposite index finger, push it out, dropping them onto the prepared baking sheets.(Of course your hands were scrubbed before you even started to make the cookies and you probably cleaned them after handling the packages, right?).
Place them about two inches apart as they will spread a bit.
To make football–shaped cookies: use a Tablespoon, fill about half-full and use the side of the spoon to create an oval shape.

Bake for about 12 minutes or until they lose their shine and a finger touched to the top does not leave a mark.
Remove from the pan and cool on a wire rack. When cool, make icing laces on them with  a few quick lines of royal icing, [October Archives; you can use a pastry bag or a plastic sandwich bag with a tiny part of the corner cut off], or you can use ‘cookie icing’ available at most retail grocers.(‘Cookie icing‘ will become firm when dry; do not use gel-type cake decorator icing as these will remain wet and sticky.)

[

[Lactose-free: use margarine and almond/soy, coconut milk.

Vegan version; use margarine or ‘vegan butter’ almond soy or even coconut milk and a favorite vegan egg substitute; I would suggest puréed tofu or “Enger-G Egg Replacer”]

Even plain, these cookies are a nice lunchbox cookie or a gift; they would make an excellent addition if you are a guest at a Superbowl party. They are good with coffee and  excellent  with milk!
I hope you try and enjoy these cookies at any time, any shape!

Guest Author Ashton Lee

Hello, People; Tonette here…
As I promised, today I have another special
guest, my FaceBook friend, author Ashton Lee.
Ashton is already an accomplished writer, but there is quite a bit of buzz about his upcoming release,”The Cherry Cola Book Club”, (Kensington Press, NY)
(But I’ll let him tell you more about it).
I am pleased and honored that Ashton has agreed to share thoughts about his
book and about food, friends and family with us.

So, Friends, I bring you… Ashton Lee!

Hello everyone! Tonette has asked me to comment on the role comfort food and its preparation plays in my forthcoming novel–‘The Cherry Cola Book Club–‘ from Kensington Books. It will be released on April 13th but may be pre-ordered now from your local book store.

First, a bit of background about myself. I’m a Deep Southerner, as I like to say, born and brought up in the historic town of Natchez, Ms. My enormous extended family gave me lots of fodder for my future fiction. You cannot grow up with nineteen first cousins who are like brothers and sisters and not observe generous helpings of human behavior.

One of the happiest memories I have of growing up is of Sunday dinners in the country with my cousins, aunts, uncles, parents, and, of course, my maternal grandfather, who hosted these feasts. The fare was almost always the same: fried chicken, succotash, sliced tomatoes, cornbread, rice and gravy and applesauce pie for dessert. For the adults this was preceded by mint juleps, while we kids drank tea or soda pop.

The feeling of great security and comfort derived from these dinners still sticks with me today. It provides emotional shelter in unstable economic and political times, and I return to those memories often both when I am writing and while simply daydreaming.

My maternal grandmother added a different layer of comfort whenever we all visited her house. She and my grandfather were separated, but never divorced, and the matter was never discussed. Instead, it almost seemed like both of them competed for our affection with lavish displays of comfort cuisine. For my grandmother, that consisted of tomato aspic and baked custard. She always had legions of both in the refrigerator, and her standard statement after hugging and kissing us was: “Now you simply have to eat something. What do you want–aspic or custard?” Even if we’d just eaten elsewhere, we had to accept one or the other with a smile. In truth, either one was a cup of her affection for her family, and it was easy to picture her spending most of the day before a visit, toiling in the kitchen to greet us properly with these staples.

“The Cherry Cola Book Club” is filled with characters who use food in just such a manner, plus more: to reach out to strangers, to set the table, if you will, for stronger existing friendship, to offer a bit of themselves through a shared experience that everyone must indulge.

If you’d like more information on the plot and characters, just go to facebook.com/ashtonlee.net and click on the big ‘Like’ icon. You’ll be kept updated on reviews, book tour dates and other buzz. There is a special recipe section in the back of the book which I know you will enjoy. Everything from frozen fruit salad to chicken spaghetti and that tomato aspic and baked custard. I hope all of you will be reading and comfort cooking when spring gets here.

[Tonette’s back:]Thank you, Aston; it would seem that the premise of ‘The Cherry Cola Book Club” is tailor-made to complement this blog. “Food, Friend and Family” is not just a title; it’s a philosophy. I don’t meant to imply that food is all, but everyone eats and there is not a culture in the world, (past or present), that has not celebrated with foods and used them to comfort and welcome others. Food is a wonderful way for people to connect, to open their hearts; to lead people to share their stories and their cultures. As families fragment and drift apart, we need to try to find the time to pass down heritage, share family stories, and to make new ones to tell later on; family meals, visits and celebrations are probably the best ways.

I am not the only one who has been waiting with fervent anticipation for “The Cherry Cola Book Club”; Ashton and Kensington Press are bracing for great success, (in fact, a sequel is already well on its way!) I hope the book tour goes as planned,( or better) , because it should bring him waaaay up north within a couple of hours of me and I have every intention of driving out to meet him in person, get a book, get an autograph and give him a hug!

I hope you feel free to bring on any questions here that you may have for Ashton.
[Sorry, he can not share any of the recipes that he mentioned because of prepublication and copyright restrictions; we’ll just have wait and get our hands on the book! ]

Who wants to start us off?

You Make Chicken Wings!

I will never forget when I first heard of the chicken wing craze; I thought people were truly crazy, but found out that I was just as crazy for them!

I’m not hot on hot wings, but I have found that you can make any variety of wings easily and they are on the list of top SuperBowl and sport-watching foods. They are always big hits on buffets. I will tell you how you can make them and suggest kinds, but (ahem), I expect you to take the ball and run with it!

It is easy to make different styles of wings at home

It is easy to make different styles of wings at home

[This is a small sample; I am not ready for Sunday yet!]

The first few times I made wings, I followed a recipe with was delicious, but very time consuming. It entailed cooking the wings in a slow-cooker for hours, when reducing,(cooking down), the liquid, them frying the wings until crispy. The part which I messed-up on more than once was by over-cooking the wings in the cooker; I ended up with a tasty mess.

Then I decided to branch out with flavors and styles and fry the wings, then cook them in a glaze. They were also good  and were a hit, but it was a messy way and a pain to clean up; it wasn’t worth it for me,(although the fellas here liked them…  of course, they  did none of the work.).

So I will skip you to the easy way to great chicken wings and one that will allow you to make them in large numbers more quickly and to make several types at a time, if you’d like. My secret weapon?

The oven.

The hardest part about making wings is the fact that the bones make it difficult to cook them all the way through.(I became ill at a famous buffet restaurant from undercooked chicken wings). The next thing you need to make successful wings is to make them crispy; you can do it.

Depending on the amount of time you are willing to put in to preparing the wings, you can make a couple or many types and flavors, more on your own, or some straight out of bottles and jars.

For all of them, you are going to line a baking sheet in foil for easy clean-up and place dipped wings,(with or without the wing-tips cut off; I take them off and use them in broth), on the foil,(or parchment paper). I brush them with more of the chosen sauce , cover them and let them cook in a 350F oven for about 45 minutes, occasionally basting them in more sauce .Cut one gently at the main joint and check for color. If it is red, continue cooking.
When they are gray inside with no red-running, remove the covering and baste one last time.  Place the wings under the broiler for a few minutes,(watch them closely).

That’s it.

Now, for choosing sauces:

There are many wing sauces, barbeque sauces and marinades waiting on your grocer’s shelf; (I  mix 3 parts honey bbq sauce with 1 part hickory; that is my secret for most of my barbeque recipes.) You can even use your favorite non-creamy salad dressings ….or you can make your own, original flavors, specifically to your taste.

One of my men’s favorites is Thai Hot Wings,(which was the first I made on my own ).
I take
½ cup of brown sugar
¼ cup of water
½ cup Asian Sweet Chili Sauce (bottled)

Boil this until thick,(taste and adjust ratio of chili to sugar; do not substitute honey; it removes the “heat” from the chili.)
Use as directed above. Warming: these get hotter as they sit. Be forewarned if you pre-make these!

Basic glaze for wings:

The next way is very versatile. The formula is this:

Reduce, (boil until condensed), chicken broth until very strong
Or
Use chicken bouillon and use twice the amount,(or half or the water), suggested.
Then you can dip or baste the wings with this and sprinkle them with herbs and spices, or add them to the broth.
Sprinkling the herbs and spices on afterward is easiest and is probably necessary even if you add some to the broth beforehand, but adding them to the broth softens dried herbs and spices, and gives more uniform flavor throughout the wings. Depending on the saltiness of your glaze, you may or may not feel the need for more salt on the wings. Taste the broth before dipping or brushing the wings; never eat or taste anything that has been contaminated with raw meat or poultry. Boil down further or make more, (and condense), and add spices or other additions suggested below to make dipping sauces, if you’d like.

Suggestions for additions are:

Italian spice ( or parsley, basil , marjoram)

Garlic-Rosemary

Mesquite

Mexican spice combo( or cilantro, cayenne, cumin)

Mixed Vegetable flakes

Tomato &/or Sweet Pepper flakes with garlic &/or chives

Lemon–Pepper or Lemon-Thyme (squeeze lemon juice on the wings after the first glazing and sprinkle on pepper, or use dried lemon peel)

Oregano, onion powder and paprika

Garam Masala

Dillweed

Sage, marjoram, onion powder , parsley

Sesame seed (add a couple of drops of sesame oil to broth for stronger flavor)

You get the idea, right? I hope you get more ideas.

You can add or glaze at the end with honey (in addition to many of the above), or with maple syrup alone.
If you want sweet but can’t use honey, you can use corn or cane syrup, or brown sugar.
For sweet wings without sugar, use a fruit-only spread,(found in the jelly aisle).
If you are feeling really adventuresome, you can add ginger or allspice and make wonderful wings.

You can freeze the wings after they cool. As always, wrap tightly and remove as much air as humanly possible,(if you don’t have a vacuum machine, use a good, sturdy zipper-close bag and squeeze.) You can microwave them to thaw and they will be good to eat heated that way , but you can re-crisp them under the broiler for a couple of minutes after they are thawed and bring them back to perfect.

So feel free to try several kinds and make them before your party, or to keep on hand for a filling fast snack or an addition when there are unexpected guest, or long-staying ones, ever-hungry teens, or kids’ sleep-overs..

I have a special guest-blogger coming next time. I hope you join me in welcoming him.

SuperBowl /March Madness Party Tips and Potato Skins

It’s time to kick-off some tips for SuperBowl, (and every other Bowl) and get into March Madness parties…and any other ‘Football” parties anywhere in the world.(Too bad it is so long between World Cup matches,I love  them!)

Many of the recipes in the archives would suit a nice and easy buffet, which is the only way to go when it comes to watching events and for all-day parties.

Remember that there is probably going to be a lot of hands-in-the-air and jumping-up, either in celebration or in disgust, decided by the individual on how the plays go and who makes them!

Depending in just how long you anticipate your guests, some or all, to be there will help you to make the choices of foods to offer. Are you going to have fellow fans in for most of the pre-game programs as well as the game itself?Or just for the game, which will be long enough,(expect four hours for the SuperBowl.)
If you are expecting things to go on for some time, you are going to want some of the foods to come out at varying times; some substantial, some snack-type, some sweet. It does not matter how many or how few, people need food , people want interesting food and you don’t want to work too hard to make a nice spread. Much can be done ahead of time.

Ideas for your offerings can be founds among those already posted in this blog. They are:

Lentil Soup, Bean Soup [August Archives], Savory Bread Rolls, Taco Salad, Teriyaki Pork , Meatball Stew[Sept. Archives; which also tells of “Pitfalls and Parties”],Zucchini One-Bowl, Cookies and Sarah Ballance’s Pecan Bars [October Archives], Crispy Veggies, Vegetables with Cheese Sauce[November Archives], Ham, Broccoli, Potato & Cheese Casserole [Dec. Archives],Salads, Vegetable Pasta Salad [Previous Post]
All can be made ahead of the game day and, (with the exception of the Cheese Sauce and Salads), frozen even earlier and re-warmed before your guests arrive.

I will admit that I have waaaaay overdone the football theme at times. I made 2 kinds of cookies, one in cut-outs that were ball-shapes and helmet-shaped and iced them in the teams’ colors and , using the side of a spoon to ‘drop’ the Chocolate cookies, I made them reasonably football-shaped and put ‘laces’ on them with icing.[ October Archives]. I made chicken salad football-shaped, covered it in brown sesame seeds and made cream cheese ‘laces’. I made a Crab Cheese Ball the same way, but in walnuts:Football cheeseballfootballcheeseball

I made a quarter sheet cake and covered it with green colored coconut for grass, used white icing for hash marks and goalposts, wrote the teams names in the end zones and made candy shaped like footballs and helmets,(and colored them in the teams’ colors).

In other words, I went nuts.
There is no need for all of that, really.(OK, I will admit; I made the cheeseball when I made the one for New Year’s Eve; it is in the freezer and it will come out for the SuperBowl. But see? Many things, most things, can be made ahead of time. )

Chili is a traditional food here for the SuperBowl…and I will let you in on my shameful secret: It’s McCormick’s Mild Chili mix in a packet. I brown one pound of ground beef, drain it, add one can of petite diced tomatoes and one can of kidney beans .That is it. I usually two pounds and then it is two cans of tomatoes, two packets of mix and one can of light red kidney beans and one can of dark. How creative can I get?
If you make your own chili, good for you; I have never made one that I like as well as this easy recipe. It is ready in no time, (especially if you have pre-browned the ground beef; it will last in your refrigerator for days, or you can pre-brown the beef and freeze it. You can freeze the chili, too, but it takes almost as long to warm it as it does to toss it together in a pot and simmer it for a short time;that’s all it takes.)
Texans may get really get upset with me; they claim chili has no beans. Here, people add spaghetti; I have no idea why. If you are into trading ground turkey for beef, that is up to your taste but as far as I am concerned, there is not enough chili powder in the world to hide the fact that it is turkey. I don’t dislike turkey at all, but I do not believe that it is a substitute for beef in any recipe.

Do you know all of your guests well? Do you know their tastes and dietary restrictions? Is there any chance that someone will be bringing a guest whom you don’t know? Always have meatless alternatives; always have dairy and gluten-free and low sugar ones. It’s a nicer to have a variety and it’s healthier, too.
Don’t forget to look for ideas for more foods in the Meatless Protein Combinations [Sept.Archives]

No matter what you make, keeping the hot food hot and cold food cold is a challenge that you must meet. Depending on how for your TV is from your kitchen, you can keep food hot in pots on low heat on the stove, or in oven-proof stoneware or bakeware in your oven , set on 200F.(SuperBowl isn’t a time for your finest china and  your crystal anyway.) You can use slow cookers, warming trays, buffet servers and even press electric frying pans and rice cookers into warming service. Just make sure that you have a sturdy table and place it against a wall. Never have electric cords where anyone needs to walk by or around or where people have to reach over hot pots or servers to get to other foods and drinks.

ways to keep food warm for serving

ways to keep food warm for serving

Borrow slow cookers, or warmers if you must, but
you should have at least one slow cooker; you can get them for under $20. The big one here was about $35 and came with the little warmer as a bonus. The mini buffet-style warmer I have here was under $30, (and was given to me by my sister); the warming tray was left behind by the previous tenant and found when I moved into a place nearly thirty years ago. The electric frying pan was my mother’s.(Quality lasts.) If you anticipate doing entertaining, look for sales; you can get many of these at even lower prices. They make things easier, but are not necessities.(That is my rice cooker in the middle.)

It is easier to just prepare to put out small portions of cold foods and replenish the serving dishes, or if you have the room, prepare several dishes/platters and switch them out before the food becomes room temperature. Use a picnic cooler for extra storage room,(and place outside if the weather is cold).

You don’t want to miss the game and the fun …and let your guests see you working too hard; be a gracious host.

Make sure you hit your local dollar market/stores and pick up extra small, covered plastic storage containers for leftovers and for sending some home with your guests. YOU WILL HAVE LEFTOVERS ; that is a commandment! Never underfeed guest and never underestimate the appetite of sport fans, (especially male ones!) You may also want to pick up some covered, compartmentalized ‘carry-out’ containers; men love these and you can find them at dollar stores in packets of 10 for a dollar.
I often keep covered carry-out or pre-made item’s plastic containers in which to give away food. (“Recycle, Reduce, Reuse”). Foil pans are in all stores, (and cheap in dollar markets), and are also good for giving away food. Try never to give food on plates or in containers that you want to keep; you may not get them back. People may be too rushed to remember, or embarrassed if they break, or give them ‘back’ to the wrong person.(My aunt ‘returned’ my mother’s best cake dish to her next door neighbor.The woman took it and never told my aunt that it wasn’t hers!). If you want to use ‘real’ plates or bowls, use any odd pieces you may have or buy some at your local dollar store or  from you favorite charity thrift store. And put a note on your gift to pass the plate/bowl along.

Some people consider chicken wings another ‘must have’. My next post (I hope) will be on chicken wings and how easy it is to make them and how to make a variety of them.

 

3 Potato Skins  (9)

Make your own Potato Skins; make them healthier and wow ’em in the process.
Scrub potatoes and peel them in long strips. Place the strips in cold water and make mashed or Parsley Potatoes [December Archive], withe the insides, especially if you are making the Ham Casserole or other recipe for the party.

Line a flat baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Brush with vegetable oil of your choice,(I prefer regular olive or peanut oil), and sprinkle with salt,(preferably sea salt, but any will do).
Place the potato skins outside-down on the prepared baking sheet, brush the insides (top) with  vegetable oil and sprinkle them with…whatever you like! Some ideas are: Cheddar cheese; Pepper Jack cheese, parsley/ paprika/rosemary; chipotle; garlic/oregano; chives, with salt and pepper; Italian seasoning, (parsley, basil, marjoram); turmeric/ garlic; garam masala; or any group of herbs you like; mix or match them with cheeses, too.

Bake at 400F until very firm. When cool, these may be frozen wrapped well, with paper or plastic between the layers, and after thawing, can then be re-crisped in a hot oven before serving.

Don’t forget a fruit. A fruit tray is not hard to make and much less expensive if you do the slicing yourself. Fruits that will quickly oxidize,(turn brown), like bananas, apples and pears, will not do so as rapidly if they are dipped in either citrus soda or pineapple juice.Some people use lemon juice,[wince!].
If even THAT is too much trouble or you don’t feel that you will have the time, make a fruit salad, and feel free to use canned/jarred pineapple, plums, peaches, mandarin oranges, berries,(or frozen, thawed berries).This can be made a day or two ahead of time, and you’ll be glad it’s there.

Have plenty of ice and non-alcoholic drinks…good water, coffee, sodas and teas, with sugar and sweeteners on the side. Limit the alcohol if serving and cut it off long before your guests need to leave.Make sure they eat and drink plenty of clear fluids before and after.

Make sure there is a variety of chips, pretzels and/or popcorn or other non-sugary snacks. Avoid messy desserts and melting ones, such as those with whipped cream or ice cream, puddings and ‘molten cakes’. You are better off with cupcakes, muffins or bar-type cakes,(brownies, etc.), than a cake you need to cut. Cakes are seldom  pretty once they are  cut and are often a sticky mess; men, especially, don’t want to deal with the mess, (and you don’t need it on our floor or in the rugs).Plus, it takes up a lot of table room, you can put muffins and bar cookies stacked or in a basket.

I hope to get back with more recipes; if you have any questions, please shoot them my way! And no matter who wins or loses, I hope you at least get a kick out of the SuperBowl ads, like I do

Dinner Salads/Meat/Vegan/Pescaterian

Last night Number One Son stopped in and while here, grabbed a fruit and grain bar. I asked him if he was hungry, hoping he wasn’t, as he chooses not to eat pork and what I had ready was breaded boneless loin chops and polenta topped with sauce that contained Italian sausage.{We’ll be discussing Italian sauces in the future.]
But he was hungry. Fortunately, I had just made a salad to which for him I added wagon wheel pasta that was in the refrigerator and Italian-style chicken breasts which I had just removed from the freezer. I had made and frozen them a month or so ago when I hit a big sale on chicken. I have found it easier and much more convenient to freeze cooked food than raw.

Some years ago on an Ash Wednesday I had made shrimp-stuffed, twice-baked potatoes,

. One of the few times I made ‘just enough’ for all of us, but, as luck would have it, my husband invited his boss for dinner on a whim.
He had worked overtime and the boys and I had eaten. Fortunately, he arrived at home before the boss. He suggested that the boss be given his potion but there is no way one can let a guest be that uncomfortable.
I quickly made salad and added pre-made rice I had in the refrigerator , cubed cheese and tiny shrimp I kept on hand in the freezer. The boss was none the wiser and the men ate well.

You’re thinking, “All well and good, but I don’t always have enough (or any) fresh vegetables on hand” and that is a good argument, many people don’t or get caught off-guard. I have been to dinner where the my hostess broke up iceberg lettuce, poured ranch dressing on it and called it salad. I had a friend who had invited me to lunch and then lost her cool when she found that she had no cucumbers,(which I don’t particularly care for, anyway). There are many ways to make a salad and I seldom make any of them the same way twice.

Fresh veggie salad is extremely healthy, if the vegetables are clean and it actually gets eaten. The best way to insure that you actually eat the salad is to have it made with flavors you like. You don’t like cucumbers, tomatoes or radishes? Leave any or all of them out, add what you like, for instance: green peppers, carrots, fresh cauliflower. Non-traditional ‘salad’ vegetables are good, like slivered parsnips, celery, bok choy. There is a very wide variety of fresh vegetables out there, mix and match as you like.

Most salads start with a base of something green and leafy, often lettuces. There’s more than iceberg out there. There is endive and leaf lettuces. There are spinach leaves, kale, mustard and collard greens, (these are strong-flavored). But salads don’t have to be only ‘fresh’ vegetables. I suggest that you try out some styles and flavors, but in a pinch, you can probably come up with a salad if you have any staples on hand.

Hopefully , you have some fresh vegetables in your refrigerator. If you don’t, please do yourself a favor, buy and taste some. Learn what you like; you will not like them all, I sure don’t.

A salad can be made with whatever vegetables you have. With any fresh ones, you can go to your cabinet and add any reasonably firm canned vegetable. For example: cut green , wax or Italian beans, peas, sliced carrots, beets,(shoestring work best), and beans, (garbanzo, canelli ,lima, great northern , black, pinto, kidney; drain and rinse before adding to the salad). Even corn kernels, fresh or canned, will work, but I do like to use canned baby corn on the cob.

I always keep a jar of gardiniera around; these a pickled vegetables, which usually include peppers, celery, carrots, cauliflower and broccoli. Right now I have a huge jar that is half-full in my refrigerator as my husband loves it in his salad, as I use it when I don’t have a lot of veggies on hand. One company makes a nice canned garden salad but I can’t get it where I now live. Their ‘Three Bean Salad’ is good and makes a nice addition to salads. Roasted peppers are easily found in stores these days to add to salads and also sandwiches; pickled peppers will help in a pinch. Black or green olives are also a common addition I make especially when short on fresh vegetables.

To make a dinner salad, one must make it a complete meal , which mean that you need to add a carbohydrate and make sure there is a protein. Beans and corn will add carbs, plus that is in itself a meatless protein combo. [See Meatless Protein Combinations, July Archives]. You can add cooked pasta,(vegetable pasta is great), couscous, barley, re-hydrated Bulgar wheat, cooked rice, lentils or cubed potatoes, (the last three for gluten-free).

If you have guest and are not sure of their preferences or dietary restrictions, you can make your own ‘salad bar’ with multiple bowls, divided serving dishes or a platter. It is always a good idea as just within our little family, (even between just me and my husband), our tastes are radically different, especially when it comes to veggies.

If you are then inclined, you can add or offer cooked cubed meats, anything from, (as I had last night), chicken breasts precooked in your favorite recipe, (or rotisserie chicken),to leftover roasted meats , to sliced lunch meats,(turkey, ham, salami). You can add crab meat, imitation crab meat or shrimp. You can add nearly any kind of reasonably firm cheese, from Velveta, (I don’t recommend it), Muenster, Cheddar, Monterrey Jack, Havarti, whatever suits your taste. I am still working on my trials, but if Tofurkey or seitan is your thing, then toss it in.

[Note: You really don’t have to be caught unaware to make a nice dinner salad; you can actually plan for it!]

Here is a recipe which has been a big hit for me. I served it in my bakery/restaurant and used it for our special boxed lunches. If you really can’t deal with fresh veggies, this one is for you; even non-salad-eaters like this, so it would be good for a Sports buffet.(I hope to start on Super Bowl and March Madness foods next.) If you need something for a pot luck, you can have these things on hand. If you can open a can , a jar and boil water, you can make this.
(The little extra effort in making it a day ahead or the night before and adding another pasta shortly before serving is worth it if you can afford the time, trust me.)
The garbanzos and the pasta make a complete meatless protein.

Vegetable Pasta Salad

one can cut green beans,(preferably ‘kitchen’ or short-cut)
one can wax (yellow) beans
one can sliced beets (pref. shoestring)
one can sliced carrots,(pref. crinkle-cut)
one half-cup garbanzo beans (chickpeas), add more if you really like them
1/3 cup thinly sliced onion,(pref. red)
½ cup sliced black olives
one bottle Italian salad dressing,(not ‘creamy’)
2-3 cups cooked, firm pasta, divided in half, (or use two types; *see note below)

Open and drain all canned vegetables. Place in a large bowl and add the onion, olives , half the pasta and the dressing. Toss gently and refrigerate, preferably over night. If the lid is tight, rotate the bowl a few times or toss the salad gently a few times.(Fold with a large spoon or spatula). Add the rest of the pasta up to two hours before serving.

*Note: Please use a strong type of pasta; radiatore, wagon wheels, fiore, penne, shells, or  even elbow macaroni. (.Noodles, bow ties and other flat pastas will break apart after absorbing the dressing and are stirred; do not use these.) Please under-cook the pasta(s) slightly. The term ‘al dente’ is over-used and often misunderstood, but you need to have the pasta firm and separate for several reasons:
The pasta added in the beginning will absorb not only a great deal of moisture from the dressing ,
it will absorb flavor from it and from the vegetables
and it will turn pink from the beets,(as will the garbanzo beans).
The ‘new’ pasta, (which should have been also pre-made and chilled, whether it is the same type as added before or a different style), will not have absorbed the moisture,
flavors or color,
so it will add contrast in color, texture,(it will still be quite firm) ;
it will also add a ‘clean’ taste, since the strong flavors have not been absorbed.

I hope you try this. Enjoy!