Image by Anna Pelzer

I could measure my life in great salads. My love for lettuce started at age seven. I wore a pink checked dress with a white belt, white tights and Mary Janes. I held my plate and tried to be patient in line. My stomach growled. My mom, cousin, and ladies of the church bustled about placing taco salad, pot roast and cheesy Reuben dip onto the pink plastic covered table.  

That’s when I saw the newcomer. A tall glass bowl layered with iceberg lettuce (at that time, I didn’t know there was any other kind), bacon, chopped hard cooked eggs, and peas. It was spread edge to edge was a slightly sweet creamy dressing and shredded cheese. When I first came to Ohio as an adult, one of the ladies brought a similar Seven Layer Salad to a potluck. I felt like rushing forward so I could get some on a plate, but I forced myself to act in a calm, pastor’s wife manner and wait my turn. That first taste of creamy, crunchy goodness with the bright burst of peas brought back a flood of memories. Plus, everything tastes better after church.

 

My second great salad was the Trecolore Salad at California Pizza Kitchen where I sometimes dined as a magazine editor in the Chicago area. The base was a thin pizza crust brushed with olive oil and parmesan. On top rested a huge green leafy salad dressed with a vinaigrette, garnished with shaved parmesan cheese, which seemed so exotic. I’d break off pieces of the crust and eat it together with the salad.

 

My third great salad originated in Illinois at Portillo’s, a local Chicago area chain. Some great classics are served there like Italian Beefs and Vienna Beef hot dogs. But one of the landmarks is their chopped salad. Diced lettuce, chicken, bacon, ditalini pasta, a slightly sweet dressing, and veggies. This was always served with crusty bread and butter. After living in Ohio a few years, I craved a chopped salad but didn’t want to travel eight hours to get one. I tossed together some ingredients, worked on my own version of the dressing, changed the pasta from ditalini, a small tube-shaped pasta which I couldn’t find in Coshocton to a tricolor spiral pasta and soon had a crispy, crunchy salad that tasted like a hug. When I make normal amounts for family and friends, I make my own dressing but when I make a lot for our church, I take a shortcut or two. I’ve included both dressings here.

 

For your summer gatherings in June, consider putting together one of these salads. They are sure to put a smile on your guest’s faces. They might even bring back a memory or two.

 

Classic Seven Layer Salad

½ head Iceberg Lettuce - cut into small pieces

4 Eggs - hard boiled and diced

1 package (12 oz) Bacon - cooked and cut into small pieces

4 small Tomatoes – chopped or use half a package of grape tomatoes cut into fourths

6 Green Onions - tops sliced thinly

2 cups mild cheddar cheese - grated

1 cup Frozen Peas – thawed (you could even add another cup of them if you love these are much as I do)

Dressing

½ cup Mayonnaise

½ cup Sour Cream

  1. tablespoon sugar, to taste

 

Clean and chop all ingredients. Mix dressing and set aside. Layer ingredients in order listed into a big glass bowl. Save some cheese and peas for garnish. Top with dressing bringing it all the way to the edge. Garnish with additional cheese and peas. Place in refrigerator to chill completely - about 2-4 hours before serving.

 

Tricolore Salad Pizza

Crust

Naan Bread

Olive Oil

Salt

Parmesan Cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush naan with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and parmesan cheese. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown.

Dressing

1 garlic clove minced

1 teaspoon dijon mustard

1 tablespoon honey

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper

Salad

4 cups mixed salad greens

1 green onion thinly sliced

1 cup grape tomatoes halved

2 Oz shaved parmesan

2 oz shaved Parmesan

salt and pepper

 

Blend 1 clove garlic with one tsp Dijon mustard, 1 TB honey, ¼ cup balsamic vinegar. Slowly add in ½ cup olive oil in a steady stream until mixture is thick. Season with salt and pepper. Toss greens, and chopped tomatoes with dressing. Put on pizza crust and garnish with shaves of   parmesan cheese.

 

Julie’s Chicago Chopped Salad

 

½ large container mixed greens

½ package grape tomatoes chopped

½ English cucumber halved and sliced

1 cup red cabbage chopped

1-2 cooked chicken breasts diced (or use a rotisserie chicken)

½ cup bacon cooked and crumbled

½ cup mozzarella cheese

  1. cups tricolor pasta cooked according to package directions

 

Homemade Sweet Italian Dressing

⅓ cup white vinegar

⅓ cup olive oil

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

2 teaspoons sugar

½ teaspoon dried oregano

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

 

Combine dressing ingredients into a mason jar. Put the lid on and shake to combine adding salt and pepper to taste.

 

Shortcut Sweet Italian Dressing

½ container Olive Garden Salad Dressing

1 tsp Italian dressing

½ tsp salt

¼ cup sugar

 

Combine dressing ingredients into a mason jar. Put the lid on and shake to combine adding salt and pepper to taste.

 

 

 

 

Sheet Pan Thanksgiving Dinner

 When my grandmother, Esther Scudder, would walk into a new restaurant, the wait staff and patrons would soon tell her their life stories. She drew people to her with her warm personality and bubbly laugh. Before she married my grandfather, she would gather with friends for a party. Young men would have bouquets of flowers delivered to her family home the next morning in hopes of being able to get a date with her.

 

Grandma died on Thanksgiving Day. I was pregnant with my now adult daughter, Amanda. That Thanksgiving, none of us really felt like making the big traditional meal so we ate at a buffet restaurant. We enjoyed being together, but it wasn’t the same. Not only did we miss Esther’s presence, but we also wished for all her delicious dishes, especially her thick homemade noodles cooked in turkey broth served over creamy mashed potatoes.

 

This Thanksgiving, I experimented with a way to have convenience and homemade deliciousness combined into one sheet pan. The entire meal took about 45 minutes of prep and an hour of cooking time. Since I only used a sheet pan, clean up was minimal. Grandma would think experiencing more time with family and friends on Thanksgiving, but still enjoying delicious food a marvelous idea. I doubled this recipe because I served about 20 people when I tested this. If you made this for your family, you would have enough leftovers for a killer turkey sandwich the next day. Grandma made dressing with cornbread and biscuits, but I used a traditional boxed stuffing. You could substitute the green beans for brussels sprouts (yum!) but the green beans crisped up in the oven nicely. I used a turkey breast that was in a cooking bag from the freezer section of the grocery store. Slicing it lengthwise made it thin enough to cook at the same rate as everything else. One of the keys to juicy turkey is using a meat thermometer to bring it to exactly 160 degrees. Take it out of the oven so it can come up to 165 degrees before you slice it and serve it. Otherwise, you will have dry turkey meat and that is one tradition that doesn’t need to continue.

 

Sheet Pan Thanksgiving Dinner

Serves 6-8

 1 oven ready turkey breast in a bag (freezer section of grocery store, defrost in refrigerator for 2 days prior to making this meal)

1 box Stuffing Mix

¼ cup water

2 sticks butter divided

4 Sweet Potatoes

½ cup brown Sugar

4 oz chopped pecans

A handful of mini marshmallows

Fresh green beans (I used the ones in a bag near the salad section)

3 cloves chopped fresh garlic

1 can southern style biscuits

Salt and pepper and granulated garlic to taste

Large Cooking Sheet

Cooking spray

 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray baking sheet with nonstick spray. Slice turkey breast in half lengthwise. If your turkey breast is not already seasoned, season with salt, pepper and granulated garlic. Put on baking sheet and cook for 15 minutes. Take out of oven. Dump excess liquid. Meanwhile, prick sweet potatoes all over with a fork. Put in microwave on high for 10 minutes. Cut sweet potatoes in half, score them and pull them a bit apart so they can trap the butter and pecan mixture later. Place halves skin side down on sheet pan in a row. Melt butter in microwave. Put half of butter in with stuffing and add water. Mix. Put stuffing on bottom of baking sheet next to the sweet potatoes, place turkey on top of stuffing. Trim green beans. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic. Put on other end of baking sheet. Bake in oven until turkey is 140 degrees. Take tray out of oven. Add brown sugar and pecans to other half of melted butter. Spoon over sweet potatoes. Cut biscuits in half and put in rows in between turkey, stuffing and sweet potatoes. Bake until biscuits are done, and turkey is at 160 degrees. Take out of oven and allow turkey to rest for 15 minutes to bring it up to 165 degrees. Sprinkle marshmallows onto sweet potatoes. Slice turkey and serve everything directly off the sheet pan. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

  Christmas Cookies

One Christmas, we decided that we were going to make Christmas gifts for each other instead of buying gifts. The kids could go any time to the craft room and use any supplies to make gifts for each other. At first everyone was on board with the idea. But as we got closer to the holiday, the news wasn’t good. No one was getting into it. My husband didn’t get the point. When I pointed out how much money he was saving, he said he would rather go to the Dollar Store and buy gifts. The children felt the same way. I tried to make these cute snow globes out of baby food jars from Pinterest to show everyone how this wouldn’t be so difficult but the little figures glued to the bottom of the jars didn’t stay glued but floated around in the murky water. I’d imagined this wonderful Christmas where we exchanged these homemade presents, but it was not to be. We ended up buying the children smaller gifts that were on sale that year.

 

The next year when the children opened their presents, they kept telling us how thankful they were for them. I hadn’t thought the previous year was a success, but it turned out it was. We often don’t realize all we have or the true meaning of a Savior coming to us as a baby. Even if we don’t receive anything under the tree, we have the ultimate gift who came to earth wrapped in swaddling clothes.

 

I love Christmas traditions and especially sweet treats. This Christmas bark recipe turned out to be delicious and festive. It would be ideal for gift giving in a mason jar tied with a ribbon. The Peppermint Hot Chocolate Christmas Cake Mix Cookies are chewy and satisfying perfect for a cookie exchange or to bring to a holiday gathering.

 

Christmas Bark

 

2 packages white chocolate almond bark

1 row of Oreos from a regular size package

1 container Christmas sprinkles

2 sheet pans lined with foil and sprayed with nonstick cooking spray

 

Melt almond bark in the microwave stirring half way through. Spread onto the two prepared sheet pans. Break up Oreos into quarters and sprinkle over bark, pressing down lightly. Divide sprinkles between the two pans. Put in refrigerator to set up. Break into pieces. Enjoy.

 

Peppermint Hot Chocolate Cookies

 

Sheet pans lined with parchment paper or foil sprayed with nonstick spray

 

1 Chocolate Cake Mix

2 large eggs

1/3 cup clear soda like lemon lime, ginger ale or club soda

1 cup chocolate chips

Peppermint candies crushed

Mini marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix the cake mix, eggs, clear soda until fully combined. Fold in chocolate chips. Use a 2 inch cookies scoop to scoop batter onto prepared sheet pans leaving a 2 inch space between the cookies. Bake in oven 8-10 minutes until the middle of the cookie sets and the cookies turn a light golden brown on the edges. Sprinkle with peppermint candies and mini marshmallows. Let the cookies set for 10 minutes until they release from the pan.