Southwestern Bean and Pasta Salad

Once I conquered my fear of baking a cake without a box mix, I was hooked on making every element of every meal from scratch. Hamburger buns, condiments, crackers, ice cream – I love making it all myself. Really, if I can find a way to needlessly complicate a recipe, I will.

Southwestern Bean and Pasta Salad
At this point, it takes an unbearably hectic week to keep me from churning my own butter, so to speak.

So. It was a week until pay day, which meant protein = beans. I was planning to make my southwestern-spiced pasta and bean salad, when I realized that I had not one, not two, but THREE half-empty, opened bottles of Ranch salad dressing in the door of my fridge. Could I really justify buying buttermilk and sour cream and three different fresh herbs to dress my salad?

I could not. So I tossed my salad with bottled dressing, and it was perfectly lovely.

As much as I love cooking and baking from scratch, my option to do so is a luxury. It requires time, money, energy, access to fresh fruits and vegetables, a place to store both fresh foods and dry goods, reliable transportation to the market, potable water, pots and pans, cupboard space, and cooking skills, just for a start.

Sometimes I have all of those resources to spare, and just like most people, other times I don’t.

I hope you enjoy this recipe.

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grilled fish tacos with cucumber salsa, sriracha dressing, and corn nuts

Last week, Minnesotans enjoyed a warm and sunny, puddly teaser thaw, and it seemed spring was just around the corner. Sadly, winter made an all-star comeback this morning, and the icy Minnesota wind that chapped my ears as I left for work sounded especially smug.

"Corn ... Nuts!"

I’m still pouting over my not-trip to Mexico, so I’m sharing another not-authentic Mexican recipe. These delightfully spicy and crunchy fish tacos look winter square in the face and say, “BITE ME.”

As much as I love batter fried fish (fish and chips, like, woah), I don’t really like deep frying in my kitchen.

Grilled Tilapia

Or, more accurately, I don’t like cleaning up the mess left by deep frying in my kitchen. So rather than dragging out the kitchen kettle and dealing with all that oil, I marinated the fish and grilled it on my little electric grill.

I made a cucumber salad instead of the more traditional cabbage slaw, but that left me with a pretty soft, squishy taco.

So I took a little inspiration from Heathers, and added a handful of Corn Nuts for some crunch. I drizzled the top with a spicy and tangy sriracha dressing, and saved the leftover dressing to use as a dip for tater tots, à la the Bulldog.

Recipe below the fold

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Jicama, Cucumber, and Orange Salad

I haven’t posted many salads from the galley kitchen yet, because most of the salads I eat are too boring to write about. I mean, no one needs a recipe to “chop iceberg lettuce and toss with bottled blue cheese dressing.”

In its simplicity, this salad is just a step or two beyond the iceberg/bottled dressing that normally accompanies my solo dinners, and honestly, doesn’t really require a recipe at all. But it’s one of my favorites – sweet, cool, and crispy — and it’s the perfect salad next to a big bowl of spicy chili.

I served this not-at-all-boring salad alongside a not-quite-perfect chili to my three fancy guesties — my lovely friends Alison and Aissa, and my Mom (who rules). Aissa is allergic to wheat gluten, so I served popcorn with the chili, instead of the usual cornbread. But don’t worry — I popped the corn in rendered duck fat and tossed it with truffle salt first.

Recipe below the fold

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Antipasto Salad

Q: What’s the best way to improve a green salad?

A: Add salami!

I served this salad last Saturday night to Mom, Handsome Greg, and my fancy guesty big brother Kevin. We ate it alongside the spaghetti in meat sauce and Italian bread with roasted garlic whipped butter. I made way too much, and I’ve been enjoying it for dinner every night since then, straight from the serving bowl.

This is another Lunch Bunch trial recipe. (My day to serve lunch at work is two weeks from today. Nervous!) I’m planning to keep everything the same, except for the croutons. On Saturday, I fried up bits of pizza dough and tossed them in grated Parmesan cheese.

[Wait – that’s a lie. Mom fried up bits of pizza dough and tossed them in grated Parmesan cheese. Oh, and Greg and Mom did all of the chopping. And Mom made the dressing, and marinated the mozzarella. Other than adapting the recipe, I was pretty much useless on this one, as I was busy making frosting for the cupcakes.]

Anyway, the fried pizza dough croutons were deliciously cheesy, golden-crisped nuggets of wonderful on top of the salad. But they don’t stay that way long enough to work for Lunch Bunch, so I’m going to make regular bread croutons in the oven, tossed with olive oil and garlic. Sorry, Lunch Bunchers!

The rest of the salad was just as fabulous: crunchy hearts of romaine, creamy marinated fresh mozzarella, spicy salami, briny artichoke hearts, and sweet basil, all tossed in olive oil and lemon juice.

Recipe after the fold

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