Stop buying salad dressing (Five salad dressings you should make from scratch)

Salads are one of my favorite things to prepare and to eat.  They’re quick, simple and the combinations are endless.  Making your own dressing is as easy as shaking all the ingredients up in a jar.  In addition to being inexpensive to make, they’re free of preservatives and random ingredients that you can’t even say.  Most of the ingredients in these dressings are on my list of 55 Ingredients to have on hand at all times so you can whip up more than one dressing last minute without having to run to the store.

For lunches when I’m working, I like to use kale and quinoa as my base.  The kale can be washed ahead of time and will last all week.  The quinoa can also be cooked and portioned in advance.  Just by changing up a few veggies and the dressing, I can have a different salad every day. My two current favorites are:

Kale + quinoa + grape tomatoes + black olives + bocconcini + honey balsamic

Kale + quinoa + carrots + red pepper + edamame + almonds + sesame soy

I want to draw extra special attention to the Caesar vinaigrette.  It was born from my dislike of creamy dressings and mayo.   Last weekend, a friend came over for dinner and brought a salad.  She texted me and asked “Is it okay if I bring Caesar salad? Will you eat that? It’s creamy.”   Clearly, she knows me well, although I will eat creamy Caesar salad now and then.

IMG_0951
Use a whole piece of naan, fill with whole romaine leaves, chicken, bacon, parm and dressing and make a copy-cat Wendy’s wrap if you’re feeling nostalgic!

It’s just that, ever since I invented this Caesar vinaigrette, I prefer it. My partner also prefers it. My kids even like it!  Inspired by traditional Caesar dressing recipes containing raw egg whipped up with a few other ingredients, (why does that sound so gross?) this still creamy-ish dressing does not contain egg or mayo.  The trick to the creaminess is to whip it up in the blender to emulsify the oil and other ingredients.   We use this for supper usually, in a simple chicken Caesar salad, with grilled chicken, bacon bits and parm.  Also, does anybody remember waaaay back in 2000 when Wendy’s had pitas?  This dressing was partially invented in mourning of those delicious chicken pitas with Caesar vinaigrette.

Other salads we like to have for dinner are honey mustard chicken Cobb and chicken/avocado taco salad.  See the breakdown of ingredients below.

Cobb: Arugula + tomatoes + hard boiled eggs + shredded cheddar + chicken + avocado + honey mustard dressing

Taco: Romaine + black beans + corn + red pepper + avocado + shredded cheddar + chicken + tortilla chips + chili lime dressing.

Side note: Remember those burrito bowls I posted on Instagram this week?  Basically, the same stuff.  Swap the lettuce for rice and use spices instead of dressing.  Boom. Ingredient efficiency at its best.

What’s also great about these two salads is that there is protein in the eggs, beans and avocado so you could forego the chicken in either salad if you’re short on time or you want to make it a meatless meal.

I’m curious to see how you use these dressings.   Use the hashtag #tblsalads on Instagram to share your salad!

5 salad dressings infographic

 

Five things you could make for supper every week

Part two of two of my meal prep series.

So last week I showed you Five things to consider when meal planning. That’s usually my starting point before getting down to figuring out what exactly we’re going to eat all week.  I like to use a magnetic dry-erase weekly calendar that I just stick on the fridge, so I can quickly glance at it and remember what’s up for the week.

I’m going go day-by-day for this post, so you can get an idea of how I proceeded and roughly how much time it took me to do everything.  In the spirit of being a good educator, I’ll also jot everything into a table, for all you visual learners.  I don’t ever do that in real life, mostly because meal planning is supposed to save you time, not consume your time.

To start, I only plan five meals and I only plan weekdays.  I do this because I like to leave room on the weekend for impromptu guests, BBQing if the weather is nice or dinner out if that’s an option.  Also, I know I’ll be restocking the groceries on Friday or Saturday so I like to empty the fridge by Friday and start fresh for the following week.

Now, on to the five things you could make for dinner every week.  To make sure we have some variety, I usually start by picking five different categories and choose a recipe from each category.  Here are my go-to categories:

  • Tacos/Something in a tortilla
  • Pasta
  • Soup
  • Big salad
  • Stir-fry/Rice bowl

Other categories you could choose from: pizza, meat & veg, casserole, slow cooker.  Think of your go-to recipes and choose five categories that are suitable for your family.

I also try to make sure that at least one or two meals per week are meatless.

Once I have my categories, I check the fridge to see what produce needs to be used up and check the freezer for things we already have.  I make my grocery list while I’m doing this.  If I have produce that will spoil quickly, I try to use those things earlier in the week and save the freezer and pantry-based meals for later in the week.

These are my strategies.  They may not work for you.  That’s okay.  There are tons of meal planning strategies out there and not all of them will work for you.  I actually enjoy cooking, so I don’t consider making dinner a chore.  For me, making dinner is 30 minutes of mostly uninterrupted time alone in the kitchen on most days, so I prefer to make something fresh than to pull a pre-made bag out of the freezer and toss it in the slow cooker, to take advantage of some “free” me-time.  I do, however, like to pre-make some things and give myself shortcuts, because let’s face it, nobody in this house is leaving me alone for more than 30 minutes.  Ever.

This is what we ate last week:

Monday: Chicken caesars

Tuesday: Beef tacos

Wednesday: Burrito bowls

Thursday: Mac & cheese

Friday: Leftovers

  Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Meal (Calendar) Chicken Caesar salad & naan Beef tacos Burrito bowls Mac and Cheese

 

*Raw veggies

Leftovers

 

What we have

(Fridge)

Lettuce

Bacon bits

*Lemon juice

*Worcestershire sauce

Butter

*Cheese

Lettuce

*Banana peppers

Hot sauce/salsa

Peppers

Avocado

Cheese

Hot sauce

Milk

Butter

*Cheese

Veggies

Leftovers

 

(Freezer) Chicken

Naan

Taco beef
(Pantry) Croutons

*Olive oil

*White vinegar

*Balsamic vinegar

*Garlic

 

 

Taco shells and tortillas Rice

Corn

Beans

Spices

Tortilla chips

*Macaroni

*Flour

*Paprika

Dry mustard

*Onion powder

*Garlic powder

*Dill

*Corn flakes

What we need

(Grocery list)

Tomatoes

**I always put out raw veggies or a salad if I know the kids won`t eat what I made, or for a quick side.*Starred items are all on my 55 Ingredients to have on hand at all times list.

As far as prepping goes, whenever I have a good chunk of time to prep, I do as much ahead of time as I can.  Some veggies, for example, peppers and cucumbers, get slimy if sliced too far in advance, so I like to do those no more than a day before.  And I wouldn’t dare stink up my fridge with pre-chopped onions, so I save that for right when I need them.

I decide which meals we’re going to have on which day based mostly on how much hands-on prep time I need versus have.  If all four kids are home, I’ll opt for something that I’ve prepared ahead of time, or something I can just throw in the oven.  I usually do a soup in the slow cooker on Mondays because…Monday.

Here is an example of my planning “play by play” so you can see how I executed the meal plan and roughly how long it took.

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
What’s going on? -Soccer 6:00

 

-Soccer 6:00 -Soccer 6:00 Soccer 6:00

-School orientation 6-8

*Babysitter

-Swim 5:30

 

Hands-on prep required -Chop raw veggies for the week

-Cook chicken for tomorrow (while cooking chicken for tonight)

 

-Wash and chop lettuce (for tonight and tomorrow)

-Make dressing

-Warm naan

 

*Buy groceries

-Chop tomatoes

-Heat up meat and shells

 

For Wednesday

-Cook rice

-Chop peppers

-Rinse and drain corn and beans

-Heat burrito bowl ingredients, season, assemble.

-Make mac & cheese ahead of time.

No prep required. No prep required.

Reheat only.

Hands-off cooking time Bake in oven 35 mins
 Hands-on cooking time Veggies 10 mins

Chicken 30 mins (divided by two since it’s for two meals, so 15 mins)

Lettuce 10/2 = 5 mins

Dressing 5 mins

Naan 5 mins

 

Tomatoes 5 mins

Meat 5 mins

Shells 5 mins

Rice and veggie prep: 10 mins

Burrito bowls 10 mins

Mac n cheese 20 mins

Notes TOTAL TIME 25 mins TOTAL TIME 15 mins

 

*We needed diapers so I took advantage and got tomatoes for tomorrow.  Since I only needed tomatoes, I probably would’ve just used salsa and skipped the grocery trip if we didn’t need anything else.

TOTAL TIME 25 mins

*Meatless

Impromptu guests: We had two extra people over for dinner so all I had to do to accommodate that was take an extra bag of meat out of the freezer.

 

I always buy a bulk package of meat and cook and portion it as soon as I get home.

TOTAL TIME 30 mins

*Meatless

TOTAL TIME 35 mins (but you’re not actually doing anything, so I’d call that free time!)

*Meatless

 

Things to notice:

1) I barely needed any groceries.  Most of the meals used ingredients we already had on hand.

2) Including prepping, the hands-on time was under 30 minutes each day (but I also got two days sans prep!)

3) On Thursday, I chose mac & cheese (there are always leftovers), in case our babysitters haven’t had dinner.

If you have kids and they’re anything like my kids, you know that between 4:00 and 5:00 kids are tired, whiny and grinding you for snacks every five minutes.  That’s mostly why I like supper to happen quickly.

If you don’t have kids, you’re probably tired from your long day at work and would rather do what I used to do before I had kids, which was sit down, have a drink and eat popcorn for supper.  Meal-prep is for everyone!

55 Ingredients to have on hand at all times

I thought that my first official post should be food related, since food is what prompted me to start this whole project in the first place.  I’m a bit of a self-proclaimed “go-to” for food knowledge among my friends.  Now.  When I first started learning about food, it was somewhat of a self-inflicted accident.  My mom will say I was “a real fusspot” but I like to say that I was just particular.  As in, I don’t like when certain foods touch on the plate or certain textures, like cooked onions, or certain smells like raw onions, or certain tastes, like green onions. But I love A&W onion rings.

The rule in our house was if you didn’t want to eat what mom made for supper, you had to make something for yourself.  I’m pretty sure I lived off macaroni and butter, tacos and pizza for a good part of my tweens.  I eventually got bored and started branching out, reading cookbooks, watching Food Network and cooking for myself.

Cooking for myself meant that if I followed a recipe, I probably wouldn’t like half the ingredients and would have to change it up somehow.  That’s how I learned to cook and that’s how I still cook today.   This is why, friends, if you’ve ever asked me for a recipe for something, I’ve probably sent you a link to some recipe off Pinterest along with a detailed commentary on all the changes I made.  And you know what? That’s okay.  There is nothing wrong with making food that you love and want to eat.  If ever I have a recipe with an ingredient I don’t like, I swap it or skip it, and I encourage you to do the same.

The best part about my new blog is that now I can skip the commentary and just give you MY recipes, straight up.  You should probably have a well-stocked pantry with my go-to ingredients, so you can play along.  I almost always have these foods on hand because

a) I use them all the time and;

b) I can throw some pretty decent meals together sans fresh groceries (more on this later).

Most of the items on this list are dry goods or non-perishable canned goods, that will last you a long time once you purchase them.

55 ingredients infographic