Make a Simple Salad Special

It seems like I buy at least a couple bottles of salad dressing every time I go to the store.  And it seems like I’m knee-deep in salad dressing every time I’m pawing through the pantry looking for something else.  So it seems like I should have had some salad dressing when friends came for dinner last week.  But no, we were completely out.  Not even a 1/2″ dribble languishing in the bottom of some bottle on the frig door.

But sometimes, running out of ta pantry staple can be a good thing as I discovered tonight.

I still haven’t gotten to the store to buy salad dressing, and the consequences  are even worse than running out with guests at the table.  After gardening and computering all day, I just wanted something simple for dinner.  Some leftover salad topped by canned tuna and a bowl of soup sounded just perfect–until I remembered our salad dressing situation.

Was I going to have to futz and fuss with a homemade salad dressing before I could sit down and eat?  Happily, the words of our local food editor, Cindy Sutter, came to my rescue.  A couple weeks ago she had written an article titled, aptly, “Easy-to-Make-Salad Dressing.”  What was in the basic recipe she learned from her mom?  Oil, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper, maybe some herbs?

With those words of wisdom in my ear, I got out a little bowl and whipped up a little dressing.  Taking only two minutes, it didn’t even come close to dashing my hopes for a simple and fast dinner.  Best of all, I got to experience the point of Cindy’s article:  That a freshly homemade dressing, even if super simple, tastes a whole lot better than something that’s been sitting in a bottle for who knows how long.

Which brings me back to the point of this article:  That a fast, fresh salad dressing is an easy way to turn simple tuna salad into expensive bistro fare.

Tuna Salad with Balsamic Dressing

Using a fork, whisk the following together in a medium-sized bowl:

  • 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp. dried leaf oregano
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic salt
  • 1/4 tsp. sugar
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste

To the dressing, add

  • 1 can water-packed, salted Albacore tuna, drained

Use the fork to break tuna into small pieces and mix with dressing to coat thoroughly.  Place the following in a Big Salad Bowl (be sure to see my blog on these special bowls:)

  • 2 cups leftover green salad (e.g., red leaf lettuce, shredded carrots, tomatoes and, for something a little different, thinly sliced cauliflower florets)

Add tuna and toss gently to combine with salad.  Taste and add more salt, pepper or vinegar, if desired.

Find out more about making vegetables a lively and luscious part of your life with the help of the Vegetable a Month Club.

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Washing Spinach vs. Packaged Spinach

Claudia is a “Good Mom.”  She buys spinach for her family because it’s so tender, tasty and full of nutrients.  But getting her family to help wash it is like climbing Mt. Everest.  Week after week, spinach goes to waste in their household.

Ray doesn’t like washing spinach any more than Claudia’s crew.  But neither will he shell out the extra dollars for the pre-washed variety.

So even though Ray and Claudia’s family all like spinach and would love to eat more, they end up with none. Not a happy ending in spring, when spinach is the star of the seasonal show.  What to do?

Getting Past the Money Thing The money thing is understandable.  You’re standing in the vegetable aisle.  Bunch spinach is $1.99.  Next to it are packages of pre-washed spinach for $2.99.  In the context of the grocery store, a dollar is a lot.  So right then and there, it seems foolhardy to pay for the packaged spinach.

That would be fine if we went ahead and bought the $1.99 bunch.   But all too often we don’t, which is why it’s worth examining the money thing a little more closely.

From the safe perch of this blog, well outside the grocery store context, the perspective is a little clearer:   It’s a dollar we’re talking about.  The difference between eating spinach and reaping its many benefits and not eating it at all is a single dollar. Maybe you eat spinach two or three times a month.   That’s $3 for the entire month.  Need I say anything about the cost of a single latte?

The 5-Minute Thing Assuming you can face down the money thing, there’s another big problem with the pre-washed spinach:  its packaging.  What happens to that plastic shoe box after fulfilling its single job of delivering your pre-washed spinach?  Of course we can “just throw it away.”  But as Julia Butterfly Hill so simply and poignantly puts it:  “There really is no such place as “away.”  This is what keeps Claudia from reaching for the packaged spinach at the store—and what leaves her with a washing problem and rotting spinach.

It’s no surprise that no one in her family wants to wash spinach.  It’s inconvenient and takes time and in our frenzied culture, that is sufficient cause for panic if not disdain.  But just like the money thing, it helps to stop and think:  just how much time is at stake?

I forced myself to quantify my time fears recently while staring at a leftover plastic spinach box.  Just how much does it take to wash a bunch of spinach?  Out of curiosity, we timed it for the Washing Spinach video for this month’s Vegetable-a-Month Club.    [[LINK]]

Spinach washing takes 5 minutes.   So we’re talking about 5 minutes.

There’s some real data instead of just more vague time fears.  So when I am torn between packaged and bunch spinach I ask myself, can I afford 5 minutes out of 16 waking hours for clean air?  Are pure water and fewer toxins in our dirt worth 5 minutes?

The Best of Both Worlds Happily, there is a solution that takes some of the environmental sting out of buying pre-washed spinach.  Some stores have bulk bins of pre-washed spinach.  The price isn’t much better than the boxed stuff, but at least you can take it home in a recycled plastic produce bag.  While I would still wash it (who knows how many hands have touched it), washing spinach in this form doesn’t take any longer than any other vegetable.

Farmer’s market spinach is often sold in bulk bins, too, and when sold in this form it is very often pre-washed.  It must definitely be given a final wash at home but again, this doesn’t take long.

Take the Aggravation out of Spinach Washing There’s one final way to tackle the spinach conundrum:  Take the annoyance out of spinach washing!  Then it isn’t a barrier to buying the less expensive, more environmentally friendly forms of spinach.    First, if you’re in a hurry, instead of tearing the spinach, use a long serrated knife to cut it to the right size.  Next, don’t get overly worried if a few stems find their way into your spinach.   Finally, get a large washing vehicle, like a salad spinner or a pasta pot with an insert.  Then you don’t need to scrub the sink before washing.

Find more tips on the Washing Spinach video from the Vegetable a Month Club—and enjoy spinach with abandon when it comes into season in spring and fall.

So That’s What They Mean by “Slow Cooking”

Removing the soup bones from my slow cooker this morning, they were melting apart.  Had to scoop them out with a slotted spoon.  The meat glistened with tender silkiness.  It was still early, but I had to try a bite:  Just like the melt-in-your-mouth, slow cooked lamb shanks I’ve had in good restaurants.

So this is how those good chefs transform the toughest cuts into the tenderest and most flavorful dishes.

I’ve known the rule for years:  low and slow.  But in my hurry up world, I tried to do low on a gas stovetop that was calibrated for hot, fast cooking.  My last batch of soup bones came out as tough as leather, even though I had cooked them on low.

Of course it probably didn’t help that I “got things going a little” by bringing the water to boil over high before turning it down to simmer.  And then I left it to simmer on the turbo-burner, not the wimpy simmer burner.  I was in a hurry, you see.  I’d decided at the last minute that the cool day would be a nice one for a last beef stew before summer’s heat settled in.

Thankfully, we’re having yet one more “last” cool spell before summer.  But yesterday morning I heard about the weather blowing in.  So I promptly pulled the last package of soup bones from the freezer and let it thaw all day.  Last night I dumped the bones into my slow cooker, filled it with cold filtered water, put on the lid and turned the heat to low.  Then the truly low heat (with no advance boiling) and the truly long time (12 hours) worked it’s magic.

Its old and dumpy, but it still works magic

It's old and dumpy, but it still works magic

Guess there’s something to be said for forethought and patience–and that cheap, completely un-cool and un-designer kitchen appliance called the Crock Pot.

P.S. After removing the soup bones, I threw in celery and carrot tops and some raggedy ends of Egyptian green onions and spring garlic.  They’ll simmer a few hours to add even more goodness to the broth.

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