Summer Salad Series: A Simple, Satisfying Side Salad

The Summer Salad Series didn’t turn out to be the best-series-ever, I admit it. But today I had a very random salad that I threw together with what I happened to have in the house, and it turned out great! Sometimes the best things come from throwing together whatever ya got!

Being the eve of Labor Day Weekend, I figured this would be a perfect time to post one last salad of summer, and also offer a great option for a side salad for this weekend’s festivities!

eat something new

What you’ll need:

  • Romaine lettuce
  • Mild Banana Peppers
  • Cucumbers – skin left on for extra crunch!
  • Reduced Fat (or Fat Free) Feta Crumbles
  • Italian dressing (I used Olive Garden’s I had left over from a salad I got to-go)

What you’ll do:

I think it is pretty self explanatory, but just for good measure: Wash and cut lettuce. Top with desired amount of the rest of the incredients, toss with dressing of your choice and enjoy! As always, this recipe is super easy to adapt to your tastes, preferences and allergies. I do recommend a lighter dressing because of the bold flavors from the feta and the banana pepeprs – you don’t want to cover them up! Light italian, light balsamic, or a little oil and vinegar would probably be best.

The verdict: It is so simple, but completely satisfying! I thought I would be left wanting more, so I packed a few light post-salad snacks, but I honestly don’t even need them! The little bit of fat from the cheese, the zing and heat from the banana peppers, the filling lettuce and super crunch from the cucumbers is a great combination. This is sure to make an appearance at least once a week!

Want to make it a meal? Throw in some grilled chicken, chick peas or tofu and you are good to go!

I also think that this salad would make a phenomenal side to go with burgers, chicken, barbeque or anyhting else, really.

How do you feel about banana peppers?
They are my latest obsession and I can’t get enough of them!

Do you have a salad you make for parties? Please share!

What’s your favorite must have ingredient for salad?

Have a Happy Labor Day!

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Jazz! Apples

jazz applesThe power is still out due to Hurricane Irene and therefore this week’s grocery trip was short and sweet.. literally. I was only in the store for about 25 minutes (I check lots of labels and compare prices so this is short for me!) and I bought apples and new snack bars for work. I needed items that don’t need to be refrigerated, but I also didn’t want to completely sacrifice nutrition, either.

I have been in the market for new snack bars that are low in fat, calories AND sugar – a combination, come to find out, that is hard to come by. More on my thoughts on sugar and snack bars in a later post. This post is about Jazz Apples!

As I walked through the produce section, admiring all of the need-to-be-refrigerated fruits and veggies, I thought to myself: Apples and Pears! Both are great snacks for me at work and don’t have to be refrigerated. AND I could keep them in the office. Looking around for my normal favorite, Fuji or gala apples, I was surprised that I didn’t see any. I settled on some other variety, but then out of the corner of my eye I saw a sign that said Jazz! Confused at first and then intrigued, I put my apples back and made my way over to the Jazz! apples. They looked like both fuji and gala in that they were yellow and red in color. They were larger, though, and had a more of a “tall and skinny” look than the normal “short and fat” apple shape. Only 10 cents more per pound, I figured what the heck? Eat something new, right?

I snacked on one at work yesterday (and today) and they are delicious! Crisp, dense, NOT gritty at all – my number one attribute I look for in a good apple (the only macintosh I like is my computer) – and just the right amount of sweetness. Jazz apples have a distinct taste that is hard to explain, but nothing crazy or strange, just delicious!

This is what Wikipedia had to say about Jazz apples:

“Jazz is a relatively new apple variety from New Zealand. It is the result of a cross between Royal Gala and Braeburn made by Plant & Food Research in 1985.[1] It is also known as Scifresh. It was launched in April 2004.

The apple is sweet, crunchy and juicy. It has a firm, dense flesh and a complex flavor with the acid of Braeburn and the sweetness of Royal Gala giving it broad appeal.

The speculation about why the apple variety is named Jazz, is most likely the exciting color combinations that can be compared to the music style jazz which is often an advanced harmony with discoloration of a piecework.

Jazz apples are being grown under license in New Zealand, UK, Washington state in the US, Australia, France, Chile, Italy, Switzerland and Austria.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jazz_(apple))

After doing a simple Google search I noticed that Jazz apples even have their own website: jazzapple.com.

Here are a few images they featured that I thought were worth sharing:

They also boast many health benefits including:

  • Lots of fiber
  • Cancer fighting abilities
  • Help facilitate easier breathing

Anyone ever hear of the 3-A-Day Apple Diet? Jazz Apples link to the 3-Apple-A-Day Plan, claiming that on average, those who participate lose 20 lbs. in 12 weeks. Let me know if you’ve ever hear of or tried this. Very interesting!

Do you have a go-to apple variety?

What do you look for in a good apple?

What’s your favorite way to eat an apple? (plain, peanut butter, pie?)

Any out-of-the-ordinary fruits you think I should try?

Drink Something New: Harney & Son’s Green Tea with Coconut, Ginger and Vanilla

Today was the first day back to work since Hurricane Irene and we still don’t have power at home. Being that I have a few side projects (including this blog) that I usually work on at night, I had to go somewhere after work to get some things done. Where else but Starbucks where the caffeine and power are a plenty.

After setting up shop in at the Starbucks in my hometown Barnes and Noble, I headed over to the counter to ask for a platic spoon so I could eat my YoCrunch Greek (post coming soon!). As I sat down and started to “borrow” their electricity and their plastic spoon, I started to feel guilty. I also started to feel thirsty, so I decided to buy a hot tea. At the counter they had some point-of-sale items nicely displayed and, as a marketers dream (really ironic, I know) I fed right in to it.. kind of.

Sitting there was a bright green, beautiful tin of Harney & Son’s tea sachets. This is my favorite brand of tea – so much so that I’ve ordered some offline. If you know me, you know this is mildly out-of-character and shows just how much I love their tea. The Earl Grey Supreme with Lemongrass and Bergamot is my absolute favorite. But I digress.. Tonight they had Green Tea with Coconut, Ginger and Vanilla (and, come to find out, lemongrass). I just could not resist.

I thought it was a long shot, asking if they sold this in single cups, hoping I didn’t have to buy the whole tin that boasted a $10.95 price tag to satisfy my intrigue. I was in luck! I ordered a venti and brought it back to my work station to cool off.

I’m not a huge fan of green tea. Tea in Chinese or Japanese restaurants, quite frankly, I think is gross. I get it. I appreciate it. But I don’t like it. With the other flavors mixed in – all of which rank amongst my favorites – I figured I would like it.. and I was [mostly] wrong.

I take my tea plain. I hesitate to say black because unlike coffee, even black tea isn’t all that dark. I love my Earl Grey Supreme or Tazo Awake with nothing but, on occasion, a little light agave nectar. Sometimes I’ll add a splenda if I’m in the mood or if the tea stinks, but usually plain is just how I like it.

This tea is okay, but it tasted a little “earthy” and needed that extra bit of sweetness. I add a few drops of honey, which did the trick, and it wasn’t too bad. But then by sip three I started to think It tasted like spinach.

My tea tastes like spinach. Never a good thing.

I would recommend trying it if it sounds like something you would like and if you like green tea. But, unlike many other things I suggest, I don’t suggest you try it if it doesn’t sound like something you’d like. I will not be ordering this one offline.

Side note: These sachets come out to less than 40 cents each, which is less than K-cups. I was surprised and thought I would share! If you’re a tea lover and don’t mind spending 40 cents per cup, or currently buy the tea in K-cup form, I would head over to http://www.harney.com! The elegant tin is decieving, it’s really not that expensive.

Harney & Son’s Earl Grey Supreme, however, I would strongly recommend! Many restaurants bring a wooden box filled with Harney & Son’s Tea, so next time you’re out to eat and  in the mood for a little post-dinner tea, ask if they have Harney & Son’s and try the Early Grey Supreme.

Brennan’s Lobster Salad

lobster salad
Brennan’s Lobster Salad Sandwich

Whenever I visit two of my best friends in their hometown we head to the beach, but not before stopping at Brennan’s Delicatessen in Rumson, NJ. Famous for their extensive selection of gourmet wraps, not to mention homemade salads, sides and sandwiches, they are the must-try lunch spot if you’re in Central Jersey.

Having been there a few times and having loved their food, I said YES! when I was asked if I wanted to try the one in Oakhurst. It did not disappoint.

It sported the same big board of numbered sandwich options, the same glass counter filled with delicious and obviously homemade salads and sides, and the same cozy beach-town atmosphere.

First I ordered a roasted vegetable wrap, but quickly asked if it would be too much of a pain to change my order. They were offering a Lobster Salad Sandwich special that I simply could not pass up! I didn’t order it at first because “Lobster salad” makes me think of Lobster Rolls which, believe it or not, are not my favorite.

Last summer I tried a lobster roll and a lobster ale at The Lobster Roll on Long Island, supposedly the original and creator of the sandwich. It was a cute, fun place and the lobster ale was great. The roll, however, not my thing. Not bad, just not my preference.

This is why I was nervous to order it at Brennan’s… until I saw the big bowl of it on the counter. I saw that there were HUGE, and I mean HUGE chunks of lobster with shopped veggies and a light layer of dressing. I am always afraid that chicken, tuna or lobster salad will have too much filling or mayonnaise, thus hiding the supposed feature ingredient. Not the case here.

lobster rollBrennan’s lobster salad was chunky with gigantic pieces of lobster that were complimented with a little bit of mayo, and some fresh, crunchy raw veggies – mostly carrots, red onion and celery. It was served on soft, multigrain bread that stood up to the salad, even over night in the fridge! Yes, that means I could only eat half per sitting. It was a delicious and big sandwich, enough for lunch on both Thursday and Friday.

The only thing I have to say, and only because this blog is honest, is that I did not care for the chips. They make homemade potato chips, which I usually love, but this time they were a disappointment. They were soggy and some tasted like BBQ chips – something else I am not a fan of.

BUT the lobster salad sandwich was so good I was willing to over-look the chips and still give Brennan’s my utmost approval.

Not a seafood lover? Not in to Lobster salad? Try any one of their other gourmet sandwiches or wraps – you will not be sorry!

Caprese-Style Bruschetta

I ate at an Italian restaurant in Newark, DE for six years, working there for about 2 of them. I practically lived there and still ate there on my days off. It is a local favorite with great food, huge portions and extremely reasonable prices. The name of the restaurant is Cucina di Napoli and if you find yourself in Delaware, I recommend it.

Now, one of my favorite things they have is their bruschetta (pictured above). It may sound silly since this is a simple appetizer, but they hit it out of the park every. single. time. It usually comes with five large slices of bread, perfectly toasted to be crispy on the outside as to not get soggy and soft on the inside making it easy to bite in to and chew. They go the tomato-garlic-onion route with basil and a standard dressing. Absolutely fresh and delicious. I could eat the whole plate as a meal.

I recently had some people over for a dinner party and wanted to make a light, yet delicious and satisfying appetizer, so I attempted to re-create this appetizer. The biggest difference is that I added small pieces of fresh mozzarella cheese. Hence the “caprese-style” part of the dish’s title. Overall it was a huge success!

Turing for a second to the wonderful-for-familiarization-purposes website Wikipedia,

Traditional Caprese Salad

“Insalata Caprese (salad in the style of Capri) is a simple salad from the Italian region of Campania, made of sliced fresh buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, seasoned with salt, pepper, and olive oil.[1][2] In Italy, unlike most salads, it is usually served as an antipasto (starter), not a contorno (side dish).”

Traditional Bruschetta

“Bruschetta (Italian pronunciation: [brusˈketːa] ( listen)) is an appetizer from central Italy whose origin dates to at least the 15th century. It consists of roasted bread rubbed with garlic and topped with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Variations may include toppings of spicy red pepper, tomato, vegetables, beans, cured meat, and/or cheese; the most popular recipe outside of Italy involves basil, fresh tomato, garlic and onion or mozzarella. Bruschetta is usually served as a snack or appetizer.”

So the american-ized version of Bruschetta with the tomatos isn’t exactlyyyyyy traditional – but it is delicious, and it’s pretty close, so who cares?

Here is what you’ll need: 

  • 6 Roma tomatoes
  • 1 small white or yellow onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 7 or so leaves of fresh Basil – fresh makes a big difference, so I would suggest splurging for it!
  • Fresh mozzarella cheese (as much as you want – but one small container of the mozz balls in water would do it)
  • Whatever kind of bred you’d like – I would suggest italian or fresh bread cut in to slices
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Here is what you’ll do:

  • Slice bread, toast in the oven or a toaster oven on 400 for about 10 minutes – until they reach desired toastiness- (Not really a word, but I like it so just go with it)
  • Chop the tomatoes in to small pieces (but not minced!) – For tips, you can go here. Add to a large mixing bowl.
  • Chop onions in to desired sized pieces. If you like the taste of raw onion you may want bigger pieces the same size as a the tomatoes. I like to chop the onions very small – almost minced.
  • Peel and chop garlic. Add to the bowl.
  • fold all Basil leaves together and in half, then chop finely. Add to bowl.
  • Chop cheese in to small pieces – again, any size you’d prefer. For this particular dish I think that smaller pieces, but again not minced, works best.
  • Add olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. I would start with 2 tablespoons of oil, mix, and go from there.
  • Top bread slices with mixture and enjoy!

Your thoughts on bruschetta?

Any other favorite appetizers you can share?!

Perfect Foods Bar

 

 

Perfect Foods Bars are high-protein, organic and gluten-free large snack or meal bars, depending on your food schedule. I had seen them on lots of blogs, but never in stores and was super curious. They were nice enough to send me a sample pack of their flavors, so here it goes!

Almond:
This is the first perfect foods bar I tried and I wasn’t a fan, to be honest. You can read my review here, but to summarize: It wasn’t terrible, I didn’t need to spit it out or anything like that, but I didn’t finish it.

In an attempt to find other opinions, I brought some bars to the office and had a female colleague of mine give this one a try.

Here is what she said:
“I liked how I could taste the honey – it was a prominent flavor. The almond flavor was also good. Overall I liked it!”

Cranberry Crunch:
This one was much better! This is the “Lite” version, with 199 calories as opposed to 304. The peanut butter taste isn’t overly intense, but it is prevalent. The cranberries and the “crunch” which taste like tiny pieces of rice cake, were great. Looking at the label, one of the ingredients is brown puffed rice, so there you go – that’s why I taste the rice cake! (But better – if you’re thinking rice cakes are bland- these are not!) I think I would really like this if the other ingredients had smaller proportions in order to make room for more cranberries.

Peanut Butter:
I alerted Katie at Perfect Foods Bar that I am not a big fan of things that are primarily peanut butter flavored, but she sent them along anyway so that I could have some peanut butter lovers in my life give them a whirl. So, I brought them to the office and this is the response I got.

“They’re OK. They really taste like peanut butter, like organic peanut butter. But I’m really not picky.” By the looks of it, he needed some milk; he was struggling to speak between bites. And judging by the fact that he finished it in less than 3 minutes, I would say he liked it.

If they sound like something you would like I would definitely recommend giving them a try. They are really, really nice people and this is a good product.

____________________________________________________

Full disclosure: I had seen Perfect Foods Bars on other blogs and could not find them in stores anywhere. When I e-mailed them, they offered to send me some if I would give them a review. This is my 100% honest review of their bars.

Summer Salad Series: Spinach Caprese Pasta Salad

I made this pasta salad last weekend for a birthday barbeque and it seemed to go over very well. I like this one for the summer because it is very light and the spinach and especially tomatoes are tastes of summer for me. You can make this in either large or small quantities, it can definitely be made ahead of time and it travels well, too. Perfect for attending or hosting summer parties!

What You’ll Need: 12 side servings

  • 1 pound pasta, I prefer Farfalle (bowties) for this
  • 6 roma tomatoes
  • Fresh Mozzarella cheese (half average size block/roll)
  • half bag of fresh baby spinach
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic
  • 4 average-sized basil leaves
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

What you’ll do:

Prepare the pasta, drain and return to a large pot or mixing bowl.

Chop tomatoes – I found that it worked best to slice in to round disks, then cutting each “disk” twice in to 4 pieces. Add to pasta

Remove the end of the stems from the leaves of spinach, rip spinach up in to smaller pieces. Add to pot.

Cube mozzarella in to desired size pieces.

Remove outer casing and any rough edges from the cloves of garlic. Mince garlic in to very small pieces and add to pasta.

Fold all basil leaves together and chop finely. Mix everything together.

Add red wine vinegar and olive oil. Mix. Salt and pepper to taste.

That’s it! Not too bad as long as you can stand all of the cutting and chopping, or if you have a great sous chef! 😉

A tip for pasta salads: The ideal bite would contain a little bit of everything. It is up to you to decide how big you want each of your ingredients to be as you prepare them to be added to the pasta. However, think about how small they would all need to be in order to fit nicely on a fork and in to your – and your guests’ – mouths all at once 🙂 In terms of this recipe I would caution against making the mozzarella pieces too big.

I would also try this with some grilled chicken mixed in, or sub the pasta for heartier veggies like zucchini and squash for gluten free/low carb! Try Dreamfields pasta for a healthier, but still truly pasta taste and texture!

Do you have a favorite pasta salad?

If you avoid pasta, anything you prefer as a substitute?

Any suggestions for salads for me to add to the series, or particular ingredients to highlight?