The Backyard Salad


I love a big salad. A leafy bowl of green goodness, garnished with bright fresh veggies, crunchy nuts, earthy avocado chunks, tangy crumbled cheese and of course , topped with my favorite part of the salad: Good Seasons All Natural Italian Dressing.

This recipe is quite simple and you may be thinking, “Deb, why do I need a recipe for salad? I mean, come on… it’s just salad!” But this particular “recipe” is packed full of proteins (which aren’t normally found in your average side salad) and is hearty enough to be a complete meal in itself. Even for the burliest hungry-man (he may protest initially, but he’ll find himself perfectly satisfied by the time he reaches the bottom of the bowl), and it’s tasty enough for even the pickiest of kids. Also, it’s a great source of filling protein for your die-hard vegetarians. I made this for my friend Cara and I last night. She’s a self-proclaimed “Veg-Head” who was completely full after one plate.

History of the Backyard Salad Name
Kids love this salad and you’ll finally get them to eat spinach without a fuss! When my niece Katelyn was 8 years old (she’s now 11), she took one look at the salad and said, “Aunt Debbie, did you just pick these leaves off the tree in the backyard?” I simply smiled and said, “Maybe…”. She laughed and said, “Cool!” And dug right in. She calls it my Backyard Salad.

So take the challenge and tell me if you finally got your kids to eat spinach. And tell me if you’re still left hungry after polishing off a big bowl of Backyard Salad!


Ingredients

(serves 3-4)
1 large bag of baby spinach leaves (much better for you than iceberg or lighter leaf lettuces & doesn’t turn brown when air hits it)
1 large avocado
2-3 med tomatoes-on-the-vine
1 large cucumber
1 cup of croûtons (make your own by tossing cubed day old bread in olive oil, garlic and salt and bake for 8 minutes at 350 or until golden brown).
1/2 cup of roasted sliced almonds (I use Almond Accents Original when I don’t have time to roast my own)
1/4 cup of Vegan Feta


Preparation:

-Wash bagged spinach leaves and put in large bowl.
-Peel and cut cucumber lengthwise in half, then cut into 1/4″ slices.
-Cut tomatoes into 1/4 inch slices and then into quarters.
-Cut avocado in half, remove pit, then slice halves into 4 sections lengthwise. The skin will peel off much easier this way. Then cut your 8 slices into 1″ chunks. A too ripe avocado will turn into mush. Look for fruit that is semi-firm to the touch.
-Add cut veggies and remainder of ingredients to the salad and toss.
-Add 4-5 tablespoons of salad dressing and toss again. It covers a lot but add more if desired. Be careful to not add too much before tossing, or salad can end up soggy.
-Serve in large individual bowls and enjoy!

(If you reserve a handful of spinach leaves and croûtons, you can add them to your leftovers (if you have any) the next day, re-toss and it will revive your somewhat soggy salad. You probably don’t need to add any more dressing of tossed well.)

The Perfect Bite
I like to stack on my fork a piece of  avocado and tomato with a big spinach leaf… then swirl it around to pick up bits of the crumbled feta and almonds.

The Perfect Pairing
I’m not a fan of fresh fruit in my salad, though some people like to add pears, strawberries or mandarin oranges. Instead, I prefer to pair The Backyard Salad with a crisp, fruity fermented beverage. Monterey’s Bogle Chardonnay adds the perfect touch of green apple and ripe pear. All the fruit I need with this meal!


Did You Know?
A new little handy item I’ve recently discovered is the Hefty Fresh Extend zip-lock baggies. These one gallon gems literally extend the life of fruits and vegetables in the fridge. I like to stock up at the Farmer’s Market… but my fresh goods usually get tossed from rotting before I can consume them all (especially with my travel schedule). The Hefty Fresh Extend baggies have saved me from throwing away food and money.

Insalata Caprese



An eye-catching, palate-pleasing quick & light lunch… if you must add a carb-fix, include slices of toasted sour dough and use them as scoops for your salad bites.

This is also a no-cooking, no-brainer easy way to utilize your surplus of Good Seasons Italian Dressing. And it makes for a light and nutritious meal or a colorful appetizer.

Ingredients:
Fresh Mozzarella
Heirloom tomatoes
Fresh Basil (or in this case, pesto)
Good Seasons Italian Dressing

I use fresh mozzarella. I purchase it at Trader Joe’s, but you can make your own if you feel brave. My friend Stephie did – here’s her recipe. I also get the heirloom cheery tomatoes at Trader Joe’s. I’m pretty sure they have *fresh basil too… so it’s almost a one-stop-shop if you already have the dressing in your pantry or fridge. *If you’re having a hard time finding basil – as I did in this case, use a store bought pesto.

Preparation:
Slice the tomatoes in 1/4 dials – leave whole or cut in half depending on preference. I like using heirloom tomatoes. They’re so colorful and vary in sweetness. But any tomato works well here. Tear large basil leaves into pieces. Slice mozzarella into 1/4 inch dials – mimicking the tomatoes (i.e., making them the same size and shape). On to plate. alternate the tomato and cheese. If you are using fresh basil, tuck a leaf in between each slice.  If using pesto… drizzle across the top of your stacks or rows. Finally, sprinkle with Good Seasons Italian Dressing. Use sparingly – a little goes a long way.

The Perfect Bite:
Stack a slice of tomato, basil leaf and mozzarella wedge on your fork and make sure to swirl in the dressing… it’s an oh-so-good and perfect bite!

The Perfect Paring:
Try a glass of Cline Pinot Gris . I was able to try this little gem at the Cline Vineyards during a wine-tasting tour in Sonoma Valley last year. It’s light and crisp and a perfect pairing that won’t overwhelm the sweet & tangy taste of the Caprese Salad. Roughly $12 a bottle.

Did you Know?
A large consumption of tomatoes can help improve your skin texture and color. There are a ton of health benefits to eating tomatoes! Read more here.

Baked Almond Chicken Breast with Sliced Avocado


This is a very simple recipe that takes less than 30 minutes to cook… as long as you marinade the chicken the night before.

Ingredients

1-2 boneless chicken breasts
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/2 avocado, sliced
1 pkg Good Seasons Italian Dressing
1/3 cup light vegetable oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 fresh basil leaves, whole

The Night Before:
First, start with the Italian dressing for marinade. I am cheating a bit since I’m using Good Seasons Italian Dressing (but it even comes with a cute little cruet in the starter kit!). All it takes is one of their magic little seasoning packets, your own cider vinegar, water, and vegetable oil (I use Smart Balance)… and voila! You will have a dressing that people will crave (friends are constantly asking me to “Bring that salad… you know, the one with the dressing!”). Just follow the directions on the packet. Plan to keep plenty of it in your pantry… you will find dozens of uses for it!

Okay, now put your chicken in a zip lock and add the dressing as a marinade. Zip closed and shake to make sure the dressing completely covers the chicken… then refrigerate overnight.

Ready to Cook?
Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Pour all the contents from the zip lock into the baking dish. You’ll cook the chickenn in the remaining marinade. Bake uncovered on middle rack for 20 minutes. Then remove and sprinkle with sliced almonds. Return to oven and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Some ovens may vary… but be sure not to over-cook the chicken or it will dry out.But for a small to medium sized chicken breast, 25 minutes it should still be juicy but you should not see pink in the middle of  the chicken breast. If using pre-cut chicken tenderloins, reduce total cooking time to 20 minutes.  This recipe works great on the BBQ grill, as well.

Slice half of an avocado and stack on the center of your plate. Place chicken pieces on ton and garnish with basil leaves.

The Perfect Bite:
For a mouth watering experience, be sure to stack a cut of chicken, a slice of almond and a piece of avocado together on your fork… and enjoy! Feel free to make appropriate noises of delight.

The Perfect Pairing:
Try a chilled glass of Bolla Pinot Grigio. It’s light and smooth and perfect for a warm Spring evening. $9-$10 a bottle.

Did You Know?
Americans drink red wine too warm and white wine too cold. If you open and set chilled white wine out at room temp for 10 minutes before serving, you will be able to taste the wine as it was meant to taste. And the opposite goes for red wine… it should be chilled for 10 minutes before serving… Read more here.