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!


Pickle Omelete

So today I put pickles in my “omelet”.

pickle omelete

talk about eating something new!

Yes, I know that I have some explaining to do.First of all, I am calling it an “omelet” in quotation marks because it isn’t a traditional omelet, but it does wind up being a single, cooked entity made mostly of egg but mixed with other ingredients.Secondly: no, you are not reading that incorrectly, I did indeed include pickles. The idea came about from reading a series of Facebook status updates from a high school acquaintance. It came up on my news feed that he had eaten pickles in his eggs that morning and I was immediately intrigued, knowing that I had to try it.. and soon! I love eggs and I love pickles, so why not mix them?

For me a good, hearty meal tends to be on the saltier/more savory, “umami” side of the sweet and salty continuum. This includes breakfast. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good side of berries, but as far as the core of the meal I usually prefer salty and savory over sweet. However, do like to add ingredients that are inherently salty rather than adding lots of table salt. So when I thought about pickles in eggs, I was immediately attracted to the salty quality that they would bring to the eggs and knew I had to try it.

What you’ll need:

  • 1 egg or 2 egg whites
  • 1 small pickle or 1 slice of sandwich pickles
  • cooking spray
  • optional: additional condiments, cheese, bread, tortilla, etc. I used a bit of cheese and a small flour tortilla.

What You’ll do:

one egg pan

For size comparison

I sprayed my one-egg pan, (remember when I used to blog about my favorite kitchen gadgets?! I miss that! so here it goes..) one of my favorite funky kitchen gadgets. It is exactly what it’s name implies: a pan made especially for cooking a single egg. Two eggs will fit though, if you’d prefer.

I cracked a whole egg (serious time crunch thismorning!) and let it start to cook while I prepped the pickle (TWSS). In our fridge we had a jar of the thinly sliced “sandwich pickles” so I took one slice and cut it in to five smaller pieces.

I thought it would be best to let the egg begin to solidify before adding the pickles, so that’s what I did. Turns out I was wrong because when I went to flip the egg the pickles slid off and wound up on the bottom of the pan rather than as a part of the “Egg patty” I was creating. It turns out that it worked just fine, but next time I will add the pickles right after I crack the egg (and break the yolk of course!).

After flipping the egg I sprinkled less than a teaspoon of part skim cheese on a small flour tortilla. When the egg was done I used my spatula to cut the “omelet” in half and put it on the flour tortilla. I added a second helping of about the same amount of cheese.

I tossed it – well, gently placed it – in to a tupperware container and packed it to go. (I told ya, time crunch!).

Once I got to work my mouth had been salivating; I couldn’t wait to try it!

And the verdict?

Delicious! But not overly exciting. The pickle didn’t taste as strong as I thought it would, but the flavor was definitely present and it definitely gave it the added salty quality I was looking for.

Will I try it again?

Absolutely. Maybe even tomorrow.

What would I do do differently?

Add a few more pieces of pickle – and add them to the egg sooner. Other than that I’d say it was a success!

If you don’t like pickles or eggs, this isn’t for you. If you do like both of these ingredients but are skeptical of combining them.. don’t be! Trust me, this is a risk worth taking.

Like I always say, what’s the worst case scenario? You don’t like it and you spit it out. No regrets, just lessons learned. No worries!

Have you ever tried this?

Thoughts on pickles in eggs?

Have another favorite seemingly strange flavor combination for me to try?

What’s your favorite ingredient to add to eggs?

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?!

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?

Introducing the Summer Salad Series: Crunchy Chicken Salad

Sorry for another super long hiatus! For those of you who were worried, fret not – I should be back to posting regularly now! I finished grad school, moved, and immediately started working from home and traveling on weekends. But now ESN is back near the top of the priority list! So here we go..

I wanted to start some kind of series to celebrate summer – and  you know how much I am a dork for alliteration – and how much I love salads – so here it goes: The Summer Salad Series! Once a week I’ll post a recipe for a great summer salad you can make at home – and I’ll throw some reviews of salads in there, too for good measure 🙂

This post will be about chicken salad, but first..

An introduction to the series:

Salad Dilemma #1: Just not the same at home.

I absolutely love salad chock full of yummy and healthy ingredients. This probably has something to do with my love for homogenous mixtures. BUT, for awhile there I thought I couldn’t make salad at home that I enjoyed as much as the entree salad that I ordered out. After several attempts, I started to figure it out.

Salad Dilemma #2: They aren’t that good for you.

Wait what?! Salad isn’t good for you?! Not when it is topped with several servings of corn, cheese, tortilla strips, fatty meat and dressing. Any ONE of these ingredients wouldn’t be a big deal – or a few in very small doses. However, when going out to eat, the salads are often among the worst choices you could make health, fat, and calorie wise (see: Eat This, Not That). Restaurants want to make sure that even though you’re picking salad, you’re left feeling satisfied – so they heap on these ingredients and the result is a meal often over 1,000 calories!

The solution: Mixing what I learned in my attempt to enjoy salads at home with the concept of quality [and portion] control being in my own hands, has led me to make many-a-delicious salads that are great crowd pleasers and perfect for the summer heat.

Tip: I learned that I don’t like my salads ice cold. Usually at a restaurant the salad doesn’t come out super cold, especially if you have added some type of cooked protein. This was the first thing I learned and it has made a HUGE difference  – I leave the ingredients out on the counter for a little while before preparing the salad.

Salad #1: Crunchy Chicken Salad

This isn’t your traditional salad since it doesn’t necessarily involve a bed of greens, but salad is in the name and it certainly could include a bed of greens, and I think it’s perfect for summer.

For me this is perfect for “Eat Something New” because I had canned chicken for the first time last summer while Nannying (wow, I miss those kids!) I’m pretty sure I blamed my mom for sheltering me  for all of these years, but since then I’ve run in to a LOT of people who have never had this chicken in a can (if you’ve never had it, think Tuna in a can – same concept – less fishy) – so if you haven’t keep reading!

What you’ll need: (Makes 3 servings – stays well in the refrigerator for a few days!)

  • 1 13 oz. can Member’s Mark chicken (I get mine from Sam’s club – awesome!)
  • 1 stalk of celery (this is the crunch!)
  • 2 tablespoons Olive Oil Reduced Fat Mayo
  • 1 Tablespoon Spicy Brown Mustard
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 pinches dried Rosemary
  • Salt and pepper to taste

What you’ll do:

  1. Open and drain the can of chicken, placing remaining contents in to a bowl for mixing.
  2. Add mayo and mustard, mix well.
  3. Wipe down celery stalk with a damp paper towel, cut and throw away the ends. Chop up the rest of the stalk in to small pieces and add to chicken mixture.
  4. Add red wine vinegar and lemon juice, mix.
  5. Add Rosemary, salt and pepper to taste.

That’s it! Super easy, right?


Other than the chicken, of course, pretty much any of ingredient can be left out if you don’t care for it. This is a very customizable salad – like most salads are – so feel free to play around. Taste it while you’re making it and add more of certain ingredients if you prefer more. I will say, though, that if you’re skeptical of the celery – give it a try anyway. It adds a really fresh crunch that really makes the whole salad. If you try it and decide you’re not a fan, then at least you can say you tried it!

Serving Suggestions:

Try this on a bed of your favorite greens (my favorite is this over spring mix) or in a sandwich. Either way I would serve it with a thin slice or two of a ripe tomato. Today I made it here for my brother and I on Light Arnold brand whole wheat toast with a slice of tomato and a side of pear and nectarine slices.

What’s your favorite summer salad?

Have you ever had chicken from a can? Do you like it?

Any suggestions or requests for ingredients for me to work in to my salads?

To borrow a phrase from one of my favorite professors…

“Coming Attraction”: This weekend I’m making a pasta salad for a party and can’t wait to share it with you all next week!

Best Ever Breading Mixture & Best Ever Breaded Chicken

One of my go-to meals is breaded, baked chicken with a veggie and a starch – usually rice. Chicken is tricky since there is such a fine line between perfectly cooked and overcooked, and no one likes dry chicken. But plain old breading just doesn’t cut it – way too bland for my taste. So I experimented and came up with what I truly believe (and what others have told me) is the best ever breading mixture.

I have gotten tons of requests for this recipe, so here it goes:

Best Ever Breading:

  • 1 c. seasoned, whole wheat breadcrumbs
  • 3/4 c. grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tblsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tblsp italian seasoning (feel free to mix it up – basil, parsley, whatever you prefer!)
  • 4 turns of fresh cracked pepper

The whole wheat bread crumbs are absolutely key. Yes, they really do make a big difference. Even members of my family who are white bread fanatics prefer this breading, so even if you’re not usually a whole-wheat eater, make an exception for this breading. Will regular breadcrumbs work? Yes. But you will not get the full effect. Use up what you have left of the regular and then make the switch, you’ll be happy you did.

The other key is the parmesan cheese. I never claimed that this recipe was going to be uber healthy – and just wait for the butter I mention below – but it is absolutely worth it, especially if you pair it with healthy sides.

Now, this breading is amazing and works well with both chicken and fish, but there’s more to the deliciousness than just the breading. Below is the classic chicken recipe. In posts to come I will be including other recipes that use this breading and ways to mix it up a bit as well as different ways to use this chicken recipe (paninis, a healthy take on chicken cordon bleu, etc.) – so look out for those!

Best Ever Breaded Chicken:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Add egg whites and a splash of milk in to a bowl and set aside.

Mix up Best Ever Breading and set aside.

One at a time take a boneless, skinless chicken breast that is completely defrosted and at room temperature (yes, room temperature) and use a meat mallet (spiky side down) and tenderize the chicken. Season with salt and pepper on both sides.

Dip chicken breast in egg mixture and then coat with breading. Place the chicken in the baking dish – they can be close together, but make sure they are not touching.

Melt 1 table spoon of butter, margarine or buttery spread – whatever you use will be fine! I’ve tried this with butter, Olivo, Country Crock and Best Life Buttery Spread and they were all the same. Using a teaspoon, pour about 1 teaspoon of butter over each piece of chicken. Do not coat the entire piece, just drip some of the butter over the breading. If butter is a concern you can leave this step out – but it does make it very tasty!

Bake time will differ based on how thick your cut of chicken is, so I would suggest baking for 10 minutes and checking on it, then going from there.

Testaments to this chicken recipe’s deliciousness:

My mom doesn’t really like chicken, and one night when I offered to make dinner this is what she says to me “Well, what kind of chicken, because I really don’t want just a dry piece of chicken” – She was skeptical, but one bite had her singing a drastically different tune. She commented on how good it was at least five times while we ate and several times around the rest of the family the next day.

For new year’s eve this past year we did a little bit of a potluck-style appetizer hour at my friend’s apartment. I wanted to make something with some protein since I knew that this would wind up being dinner for some guests, and knowing the type of night that NYE tends to be, I knew we needed something of substance. I made this chicken, but before breading it I cut it up in to bite sized pieces. I brought them prepared, but no cooked (I’ve done this a few times, it travels pretty well, actually). I put them out with a dish of spicy brown mustard for dipping. Half an hour later, there was only one left (my friends are pretty polite) and the mustard wasn’t even touched. The next morning all anyone could talk about was how good the chicken was.

Moral of the story: This really is the Best Ever Breading mixture and it is a sure-fire crowd pleaser.

Panko breading with an Old Bay mayo sauce

Tonight was fish night for me so I pulled out a frozen flounder fillet and grabbed the standard whole wheat seasoned breadcrumbs. Than I put them back and grabbed the not-so-standard Panko, Japanese style breadcrumbs. I bought these not too long ago and have never tried them in my cooking. I figured I would give it a whirl – why not? Perfect chance to get a blog post in.

I defrosted the fish, brushed with egg white, coated with Panko and threw it in the oven. After about 12 minutes at 400 degrees it was ready to go.

Meanwhile the I had carrots boiling were just about ready: I strained them, threw them right back in the pot, topped with a large handful of baby spinach, covered the pot, and let the spinach steam. (This technique worked WONDERS! – much better taste than the microwave!)

By this point the fish was cool enough to taste. I took a tiny bite and realized that it needed something –  a sauce or dip.. just something. The Panko is great in Japanese fare and especially as crunchies on sushi, but it was bland here. I decided to make a brand new take on tartar sauce.

The Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon Light Mayo
  • juice from 1 lime (about 1/2 tblspn)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
  • pinch salt
  • pinch fresh cracked pepper

Stream-of-Consciousness Recount of the Process:

Tartar sauce is good, I think, but not so elegant, so I decided to go a slightly different route. I grabbed the light mayo and a lime and started there. Then I looked around the spice rack and grabbed the Old Bay Seasoning! – the Baltimore-born seafood spice! Yes, this was going to be great… AND BOY, WAS IT!

I added the Old Bay, a little salt and one turn’s worth of fresh cracked pepper from the pepper mill. I whisked it together , tasted it, and was so excited! I didn’t know if I’d be able to make a dipping sauce for fish – a food I ADORE but have little experience with – but I did it!

The sauce was creamy but light from the lime juice, and bold and zesty from the old bay. The balance was great! The lime I think is important as opposed to the lemon because of the sweetness – but a lemon would work if you didn’t have a lime or are that partial to lemons.

I am very happy with this, and am excited to make it for the man the next time he’s in town and I make us fish!

Those of you who fear tartar sauce: the mayo is the only ingredient that is the same, so fear not! It really isn’t all that similar!

Mayo-haters: I don’t know what to say other than.. get over it! Or at least I hope you will to give this a try (maybe not keep eating it, but at least a try!)- it’s worth it!

This post was supposed to be about the Panko, which was good, but not very exciting. This dip, however… AMAZING!




It needs a name though, any suggestions?!

If I get at least 15 different suggestions (by 15 different people, but you can suggest as many as you want!) I will pick the winner and send the winner their own container of Old Bay Seasoning!