Autumn Burst Salad

pink long-headed coneflowerSome of you have asked why I have a food blog filled mostly with flower photos instead of food photos.  I guess my reasoning is that there are thousands of food blogs out there filled with photos and facts on or about food and I wanted to do something a little different for us nature and especially flower- lovers out there who love looking at floral photographs but also enjoy a good recipe too…

So I decided to start this blog. It never has been (nor do I ever want it to be) a serious food blog filled with hardcore facts. It’s just a little “light read”… that includes a recipe along the way and is filled with some floral photography to help brighten your day. ( Does looking at flowers brighten your day? It does mine… :)  ) 

dew drops

I will be releasing my first DVD in a couple of weeks! In this DVD, I will be demonstrating how to make some very unique cookie bouquets. When I talk about this a little more in depth in the upcoming weeks, the reason why I have filled my food blog with floral/nature photos will become more clear. Until then, here are some photos I took while on a drive through a prairie preserve in central Minnesota this summer.

 While driving through the preserve,  I came across a field filled with pink ball-shaped flowers. Upon getting out of the car to get a closer look, I noticed the the air was thick with perfume! I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from until I realized it was coming from the milkweed! I didn’t think milkweed had a fragrance…

milkweed

milkweed

I’m glad I got out of the car for a closer look that day or I would have never known these flowers had such a heavenly scent…

Here are a few more of my photos…

prairie grass

 

long-headed coneflower

 Autumn wildlflowersAutumn

prairie flowers

 

I think my favorite flower that day was the butterfly-weed! I would find them clustered together in giant orange masses. I loved it! Talk about an explosion of color…

butterfly-weed

 

butterfly-weed

 

I love the color orange in the Fall. Here is a recipe filled with the quinessential  colors and flavors of Fall.  Years ago, there was a photo of this particular pepper recipe in a magazine and it caught my eye because of its beautiful colors but as I read the ingredients, it sounded wonderfully delicious too! It’s a great recipe for the gardener this time of year, who may have some sweet bell peppers to use…

Autumn Burst Salad

Whisk together in a small bowl:

      6 Tablespoons cider vinegar

      6 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

      6 Tablespoons honey

      2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard

      1/2 teas salt

      1/2 teas garlic powder

       1/2 teas teas celery seed

      1/2 teas pepper

      1/2 cup finely chopped red onion

Into a large bowl, put:

      3 green sweet peppers, thinly sliced

      2 orange sweet peppers, thinly sliced

      2 yellow sweet peppers, thinly sliced

      2 red  sweet peppers, thinly sliced

      2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half

      1 cup pepperoni, thinly sliced and cut into strips

Pour the dressing over the ingredients, toss and serve.

*The first time I made this salad, I thought I’d let the peppers marinate overnight in the dressing. It turned out to be a bad idea because the vinegar softened the peppers and dulled the colors. So when I serve this salad now, I prepare all the ingredients, toss them together and place them into the refrigerator. I also prepare the dressing, cover it and place it into the refrigerator as well. When it comes time to serve the salad, it’s just a quick toss-together and the result is a beautiful vibrant and delicious salad, perfect for this time of year!  

Happy Autumn! :)   

 

 

 

Frozen grape salad…

sunflowersI’m originally from a small rural community in northeast Nebraska and this time of year always makes me homesick for my little hometown. It’s nearing county fair time and the fair always reminds of beanwalking. ( In case you have never heard of “beanwalking”,  it’s where a person walks through a field of soybeans and takes a hoe or corn knife and cuts out the weeds )

It’s a hard, buggy and very dirty job and it’s strange when I think of my experience with it when I was growing up. I would expect to feel a sense of relief that I never have to do it again. But you know, around this time of year,  I actually  get the yearning to go back to the beanfields!

Now , don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish for the experience with the all the bugs. I swear there was every shape, size and color of bug out there that just seemed to wait and then jump! out at me when I least expected it.  I don’t miss those bugs, but what I do miss is the feeling of being out in the fields…

Watching the sun come up…

early sunrise

sunrise

Even the weeds out there can look beautiful in the morning light…

wild flower

weed

Back when I was in high school, the whole beanwalking experience would start off this way…

The phone would ring and  our hearts would sink as we’d hear Mom say, “Beanwalking? Well sure!  The kids would love to help out. What? Sure…they’ll be there at 4:30 a.m. and ready to go!”

So before dawn, we’d get ready and ride out to the beanfields. When we would get out of the car, the air would be thick with that heavenly  moist smell of damp earth, weeds and alfafa. We would stand outside the car, look out across the beanfield we were going to conquer that day and then… the part I hated most began, climbing over the barbed wire fence to get into the field!

soybeans

 

For some reason, I could never get over the fence without ripping my pants on the barbed wire. It was such a common occurence I could feel the hesitation of the leader as he would pause to hold the wire down so that I could swing my leg over the fence. It was almost like he was thinking “okay…wait for it…”   Rip. Okay, now her leg is over the fence, the whole group can get into the field.

 All a person could hear out there were the birds singing… or maybe the faint sound of a tractor in the distance…or one of  my favorite sounds, even to this day – the rustling sound corn leaves make when there is a breeze..

cows

 

wildflowers

grass

 

When bean plants are small and about knee high, it’s easy to spot the weeds and the beans are easy to walk through but when they get tall…

soybeans

…they become very difficult to walk through. When they are as high as your waist, the beans will start to lay down and sort of grow together so you will literally have to begin pulling yourself through the rows of beans as you walk. You can’t see your feet or what you are stepping on or tripping over underneath the beans…

windmill

storm clouds

One year, it rained and rained. When the fields were relativey “dry” , we ventured out. Every step we took, we could feel the suction of the mud pulling on our legs and feet. By the time we reached the end of the rows, our shoes and pants were so caked with mud we couldn’t even see our shoes, they were literally just big round balls of mud!

 In fact, one time we all sat down on break and laughed when we noticed how incredibly dirty we were. ” I can’t even see my shoes!” someone commented and then someone replied ” Yah, I can’t see my shoes either, wait – ” and he wiggled his feet, ” I think my shoes are gone…” He scraped the thick cake of mud from his feet and said “Yep, they’re  gone!”  

Sometimes we would be invited to a farmplace for lunch and that would be such a treat after being out in the stiffling hot beanfield. I always enjoyed the drives up the long lanes to the farmhouses. It always seemed so peaceful…

lane

Once we reached the house, there may have been a cat or two to greet us by showing off his excellent claw sharpening skills…

cat

cat

…or a beautiful garden filled with flowers and vegetables…

pink flowers

red flowers

 But one thing was for certain, if we were going to be served a lunch, there was no doubt it was going to be an awesome meal!  My favorite thing was a frozen salad. Nothing could top that after being out in the hot sun all morning…

 So today, I thought I’d share a recipe for a frozen grape salad! This salad doesn’t have to be served frozen, but in the summer, it can be a real treat served that way!

Frozen Grape salad

Wash and dry:

      4 cups red (or green) seedless grapes

Place a clean dish towel on a cookie sheet and then pour the dry grapes  on the towel, spread them out  and freeze until firm. ( Freezing them on the towel prevents them from freezing to each other or onto the cookie sheet)

Into a  large mixing bowl place:

      1 c sour  cream

      1/4 c brown sugar

      2 teas maple flavoring

Whisk until smooth and the sugar has melted. Add the frozen grapes and gently stir until the grapes have been coated. Serve in about 10 minutes, this will give the grapes a little time to thaw so that it will be easier eating them…

You can also spoon the coated frozen grapes into little plastic cups and return them to the freezer. About 15 minutes before you are going to serve them, take them out of the freezer. Then add a sprig of fresh mint and/or sprinkle toasted chopped pecans over the top as a garnish…

Whether you spoon the frozen grapes into beautiful martini glasses or pre-make them in plastic cups, these grapes make a lovely salad, appetizer or even a cool refreshing dessert for a hot summer’s day…

Hickory Dijon Dressing

meadow

On the news the other day, they had a piece about  how Minnesotans love to talk about the weather. I laughed but then paused…you know, I think they must be right because many of my blogs start out talking about the weather! I’m orginally from Nebraska but I must’ve blossomed into a true Minnesotan now because my thoughts do gravitate towards the conditions outside quite often.

A few weeks ago, we woke up to just an absolute beautiful morning! A brilliant blue sky, big puffy clouds and a gentle breeze with just a little nip in the air.  That kind of weather beckons  me to go outside and I think the kids heard that beckoning too because they wanted to go for a walk in the worst way. So the kids and I got ourselves together and we headed for the meadow because out there, we could enjoy the morning in the height of all its glory…

When we reached the meadow, little A. wanted to run and explore while E. was just content  to sit in the grass and pick wildlflowers…

meadow We found a wild honeysuckle bush, filled with blossoms…

 

honeysuckleAnd we laughed when we saw this one, as it looked like it was filled with tiny little  stick pins!…

purple wildflowers
But A. wasn’t interested in flowers, he had found a stick…

meadow

 I could’ve spent hours in the meadow that morning and I think the kids felt the same way. But when we got to the bottom of the hill and came to the woods, we thought we’d save the forest for another adventure…

moss

So after searching for little animal tracks and seeing who could spy the most dragonflies, we climbed the hill to head back home…

meadow

 

 

meadow

But not before picking a few more flowers…

Here is a recipe for Hickory Dijon Dressing. It was born from my love of hickory-smoked anything so why not try to make a dressing out of it to go with a spinach and bacon salad? ( It is also excellent as a dip with chicken nuggets or onion rings)

Hickory Dijon Dressing

Into a blender place:

      3 Tablespoons white vinegar

      1 Tablespoon prepared Dijon mustard

      1 teas dry mustard

      1/2 teas onion salt

      1/2 teas hickory liquid smoke flavoring

      2 Tablespoons sugar

      1/2 cup honey

      1/2 cup vegetable oil

Blend on high speed for 3 minutes. This can be served as a dip or as a dressing for the following salad:

Into a large bowl place:

      9 oz. bag of spinach (thoroughly washed and spun dry)

      1 medium red onion (finely chopped or sliced)

      1 lb. bacon fried until crispy then crumbled

      2 cups shredded mozarella cheese

Toss everything together and then drizzle desired amount of dressing over the salad and toss again. Enjoy!

Mandarin Chicken Salad

 

 

Mandarin chicken saladHere is one of my favorite salad recipes. I love the combination of tastes and textures… the  sweet onion dressing, the salty peanuts and the crunch of the red onions and Chinese noodles.  I go a little heavy-handed on the peanuts( I love nuts!!)  so you may want to use less, if you wish……unless you are a peanut-lover, like me!

Mandarin Chicken Salad

Into a large mixing bowl, put:

      1 large head romaine lettuce (washed and in bite-sized pieces)

      1  1/2  cups cocktail peanuts

      1 medium red onion, sliced

      1 large can mandarin oranges, drained

      4  grilled chicken breasts, cut into slices (* see note at bottom)

      Chinese noodles

Toss and then top with:     

Fat-free Onion Dressing:

Into a blender, put:

       1 cup sugar

       1/2 cup white vinegar

       2  t onion powder

       1/2  t salt

       1/4  t  black pepper

       1  t dry mustard

Blend on high speed for 5 minutes.  Pour over salad….

* I like to use Tyson frozen grilled chicken breasts. They can be found in the freezer section next to the chicken nuggets. They are convenient and oohhh…so delicious!

My Grannie Snickers…

crabapples and blossom

Isn’t it amazing how many different kinds of fruit and berries a person can find out in the countryside this time of year?  It seems everywhere a person looks there is some sort of fruit hiding amongst the leaves…

Blueberry

Some fruits are for us, like these wild plums I came across a couple of weeks ago…aren’t they beautiful? I love their soft rosy color…

Wild Plums

Some fruits are just meant to be enjoyed by our little furry or feathered friends…

Green Berries

Sumac berries

 

But no matter who is partaking of this abundance, it fills our tummies and can be very satisfying.

apples

I think I would consider the apple as  my favorite fruit of Autumn. One of my favorite ways to serve them is in this salad – or maybe it should be called a dessert? I’m not sure how to classify it! But it is a sweet and tempting combination of Granny Smith apples, Snickers candy bars, pineapple and a creamy filling. Whatever you decide to call it, it is sure to please…

 

My Granny Snickers… 

Empty a :

      20 oz. can crushed pineapple

into a collander and drain well, reserving the juice. While this is draining cut up into small pieces:

      18 – “Fun size” Snicker candy bars

Set aside. After the pineapple has drained place it on a clean dish towel or stack of folded papertowels to absorb the extra juice. While this is happening slice:

      2 Granny Smith apples

into bite-sized pieces. Place the apples into the juice of the pineapple and toss so that the apples have all been coated with the juice. Drain well in the collander. Then into a large mixing bowl put:

      1 – 8oz cream cheese, softened

      1 can sweetened condensed milk

Beat until light and creamy.

Fold the  edges of the towels over the pineapple and gently press to remove a little more of the juice and then place the pineapple into a mixing bowl along with the Snickers and drained apples. Toss.

To serve this salad/dessert add the creamy mixture to the candy and apple mixture, mix well and serve immediately. This can be made ahead of time by covering the two mixtures separately and refrigerating them until you are ready to serve this salad/dessert.

Sauteed Fresh Spinach and Garlic

 

coneflower

I was out in my garden the other day and noticed something…Autumn was peeking around the corner. It was very subtle, but I could feel its presence…

Zinnia

Pretty soon we will enter that season where we just stand in awe of nature as it paints our leaves fiery shades of red and orange…

But I thought before I get caught up marveling at the beautiful leaves of Autumn, I should pay tribute to my summer leaf friends. They are faithfully there all summer adding just a splash of color here and there…

Some leaves aren’t boastful with their beauty…in fact, you may even miss it if you aren’t looking…

 

 

Hosta leaves

Leaves have a beauty all their own, but some leaves have a beauty due to their flavor and not appearance…I think spinach falls into this category. I love spinach but when it comes to this leaf, I’d rather eat it than look at it!

When we were visiting my husband’s niece this summer, we ate at a cute little bistro (Bijon’s) in downtown Chicago. I ordered a grilled chicken breast that came with garlic mashed potatoes and sauteed spinach and garlic. It was phenomenal…

Here is my version of the wonderful dinner that evening…

Warm Sauteed Fresh Spinach and Garlic Salad

This sauteed salad comes together quickly at the very end so it is best to have the following completed before you begin saute-ing the butter and garlic…

*  cube 8 oz. fresh mozarella cheese – please don’t substitute bagged pre-shredded mozarella…If you have never tried fresh mozarella, there is a world of difference between that and the pre-shredded kind found in bags. Fresh mozarella has almost a creamy-like texture to it and compliments this dish perfectly…

* slice approximately 1 pint of cherry tomatoes into halves

* slice 3 Tyson brand fully cooked, grilled chicken breasts into strips…I love these chicken breasts! Not only are they convenient (they are found in the freezer section of your grocery store in a bright green bag) but they are sooooo good! Follow the directions on the bag to prepare them but reduce the baking time to only about 10 minutes as you are going to be saute-ing them later…

Once these things are completed, continue with the following:

Into a large saucepot or extra large skillet put:

      1/4 c butter ( salted butter)

      1 T  extra virgin olive oil

Place on medium heat. When the butter has melted add:

      1 pint halved cherry tomatoes

      1 T  chopped garlic

When the mixture begins to boil, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for 10 minutes. Then add:

      3 grilled chicken breasts, sliced

Saute until heated through. This next portion comes together very quickly.  When you are ready to sit down and eat procede with the following…

Into the hot mixture put:

      1 –  6 oz. bag pre-washed fresh spinach

Using a tongs, toss the spinach until all the leaves have been coated with the hot butter mixture. Place a lid over the pan and wilt the leaves slightly (this will take only seconds so please watch it carefully) Then add:

      8 oz. fresh mozarella cheese cut into bite-sized pieces

Remove from heat and serve immediately. Fresh mozarella cheese is a very soft cheese…you don’t want it to melt or you will be left with a stringy salad. To complete this meal, try serving it with garlic mash potatoes…the combination is absolutely heavenly! Enjoy!

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

To make garlic mashed potatoes, I add about 1 T chopped garlic and about 2 teaspoons of onion powder to about 4-5 cups of mashed potatoes. Oh, and of course there’s the melted butter over the top…

garlic mashed potatoes

Strawberry Poppyseed Salad

strawberry poppyseed saladLast year was my first experience at growing strawberries.  I put them in a container meaning to plant them into the ground later, but it never got done.  It was actually a blessing in disguise because it introduced my little girl (5 years old) to gardening!

We set the container on a table outside that was the perfect height for her to “check on them” everyday.  She claimed them as her own, which was so cute because I could her hear talking to her little plants when I was working outside.  Later on when they started to bear fruit, she would look everyday to see if there was a strawberry ready for picking.  I let her decide when they were perfect, hence she learned to wait until they were a brilliant red. It’s no fun eating a semi-red strawberry!

strawberry poppyseed salad

Here is a recipe for a wonderful salad that uses fresh stawberries. It is the perfect salad for strawberry season!  Besides the berries, it is filled with walnuts, red onion, crumbled feta cheese and a homemade onion poppyseed dressing.  Enjoy!

Strawberry Poppyseed Salad

 Into a large mixing bowl place:

      Romaine lettuce, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces

     1 medium red onion, finely chopped

      2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts

      1 – 4 oz. container crumbled garlic and herb feta cheese

This can be tossed ahead of time.  Then right before serving, toss with:

      2 cups fresh sliced strawberries, washed and hulled

Then add the following dressing…..

Onion Poppyseed Dressing

Into a blender, put:

      1/2 cup sugar

      1/4 cup white vinegar

      1 t onion powder

      1/2 t  salt

      1/8 t  black pepper

      1 t  dry mustard

Blend on high speed for 5 minutes.  Then add:

     2/3 cup vegetable oil

      1 T  poppyseeds

Blend on high for about 2 minutes.  Cover and place in the refrigerator until ready to toss with the salad. For some added color and flavor, try adding some cubed cantalope along with the strawberries!