Cinco de Mayo, pt. 1: Black bean, red pepper and corn salad with a lime dressing

Cinco de Mayo always makes me nostalgic for the Spanish class I took back in grade nine.  My teacher was one of those fantastically exuberant educators who would bounce around the classroom, laughing playfully as your face contorted as you attempted to pronounce a word.

Our class fell in the second semester of the school year.  Needless to say, that teacher loved Cinco de Mayo.

As I ate my leftover green pepper and mushroom quinoa yesterday for lunch, it dawned on be that it was May 5.  Well that was that – the cardinal rules of food blogging say that a themed holiday must not be overlooked.  Sitting on the floor of my living room (we don’t have a single chair in our house yet), I started sketching out my dinner plans.

(Aside: This whole planning my dinner while eating my lunch thing is starting to become a dangerous trend, I’m practically living from meal to meal)

In true Hilary fashion, I ended up going all out for my fiesta last night.  As a result of my hard work and kitchen toils, I’m going to be doing three different posts, one for each of my three course.  That’s right.  On a Thursday night, I cooked myself a three course meal.  I am the queen of indulgences.

For my first course, I decided to make a salad that was inspired by a nacho dip my mom makes at home.  As my good friend Gord informs me, this is also quite similar to a sante fe salad he made back last September.  Please visit and shamelessly refresh his blog.

I had red pepper and red onion lying around already, meaning that I just had to run out (bike) and get a few more things at the grocery store.  At the last minute, I realized I had accidentally bought kidney beans instead of black beans (I tend to do a lot of incorrect buying, tsk, tsk), so get this – I ran to the corner store that is literally ten steps away from my front door, and bounded back to the kitchen in a record-breaking 30 seconds.  I love my house.

One more thing – in a complete and utter Cinco de Mayo fail, I realized we didn’t have chili powder.  Yeah. I know, what sort of sad Mexican-inspired meal doesn’t have this spice?  Luckily, a combination of oregano, cumin and hot pepper sauce saved my life.  Thank you Yahoo Answers.

The salad turned out to be refreshing and fast/inexpensive to make, meaning that it would be the perfect potluck/BBQ/quick dinner meal for any night this summer.  ENJOY.

PS: Just ate this for a leftover dinner.  The leftovers are actually BETTER.  A little bit of refrigerator chill time will make all the difference.

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Spinach Strawberry and Pear Salad

On a warm, reminiscent of summer day, I rejoiced in the fact that I got to eat at a barbeque.  My attendance at this afternoon event meant that I could resist the delicious outdoor supper smells as I returned from my afternoon journalism story covering.  Since I was full of delicious hot dog and cotton candy goodness (I ate the latter on the bus, which is an extremely difficult task), I wasn’t that hungry for supper, so I decided to just make myself a light salad.

As of the late, I have discovered my favourite types of salad always involve baby spinach and some sort of fruit.  With this knowledge in mind, I decided to use these two key elements to whip up a quick and delicious spinach strawberry and pear salad.  The baby spinach I used was the stuff I had sitting in the fridge after I neglected to include it in my last blog post meal.  As for the strawberries, Britt and I went to the local farmer’s market at Lansdowne Park this morning, and had the most wonderful time browsing through the fresh produce and eating AMAZING macarons (the first time I’ve ever tried them).  The strawberries came fresh from the market (I also got peaches and carrots!) and cast a magical “fresh strawberry” spell over me.  I know I’ve been slacking on posting recipes lately, but here is the one for this salad:

Salad
– 1 cup of trimmed baby spinach
– 1/2 cup of strawberries, pitted and halved
–  Half a pear, thinly sliced
– 1/4 cup almonds, toasted (or not, since I burnt my first batch in the toaster oven and decided to settle with them un-toasted)

Dressing
– 1 tbsp vegetable oil
– 1/2 tbsp white wine vinegar
– 1/2 tsp granulated sugar
– pinch of salt and pepper

Toss and enjoy!

I hope this salad has the same magical effect on you that it had on me!

Oh, one more thing… I took this picture at around 7:17 this evening.  Please note that the sun now sets at 7:05, which meant that this picture was taken in the semi-dark at the end of my street under a streetlight.  People walked by and saw me crouched down beside the sidewalk, photographing my food.  I’m starting to think my entire neighbourhood thinks I’m off my rocker… I may have to think of alternative arrangements for darkened photography.

Mexican Tortilla Salad

With the insanity of this week (frosh week at Carleton, I work everyday!) I am absolutely shocked that I managed to find any time to make any sort of food other than soup noodles.  Since I am completely exhausted, I will keep this post short and sweet, before my eyeballs drop out of my head and decide to take a quick power nap on my keyboard.

This salad was inspired by the Mexican Tostada Salad found in the September issue of Canadian Living.  I say “inspired by” only because I made a few alterations.  One of these alterations was to make my own crispy version of tortilla chips.  As I discovered when I made my chicken tortilla soup back in May, a great way to make a quick snack/meal helper-outer is simply to slice up flour tortillas and fry them on the stove.  They come out perfectly browned and deliciously crunchy; in this case they served as the perfect replacement to the tostadas required in the original recipe.  Also, I don’t know what tostadas actually are…  Now, the original recipe in Canadian Living identified this dish as vegetarian and required you add some sort of protein replacement thinger.  Never a fan of any protein replacement (tofu=disaster), I fried up some ground beef to add to the mix.  Another change I made was to not put salsa into the recipe (I got enough tomato taste from the tomato juice and sliced plum tomatoes).  Finally, rather than layering all the fun ingredients, I just kind of tossed them around in one of our popcorn bowls and voila!  Salad is complete.  Delicious.

Apple and Spinach Salad with Cheddar

Please read the following, which is the most amusing excerpt I have ever seen in a cooking recipe:

“Bring salad to table, pause for admiration of your arrangement, pour on the dressing, toss and serve.”

With these explicit instructions, I ensured that my family “oohed” and “ahhed” for an appropriate amount of time before I tossed and served this salad.  I was very proud.

Believe it or not, this meal represented the first time I have ever eaten a spinach salad.  I have decided that it is critical for me to try other leafy greens, and expand my salad appreciation beyond that of the caesar variety.  Consistent with what my mom has been telling me for years and years, spinach does not have that much of a taste.  It was nice though – like a softer, more chewy version of lettuce.  Like lettuce without the gross white spines that I always try to pick out my salads.

The three main add-ins to this salad: apples, toasted almonds and cheddar cheese, made a HUGE difference and I got several compliments throughout the meal from both my mom and dad.  My younger brother, however, refused to eat more than a single leaf, at which time he proclaimed that the salad tasted like Lay’s chips.  Regardless of my brother’s distaste, the entire big bowl of salad was demolished by the end of dinner and, as my mom just said, “there’s no bigger compliment than to have an empty bowl at the end of the meal.”

PS: Toasting almonds makes the most insanely huge difference.  Try it.
PPS: I used Royal Gala apples and normal cheddar cheese…cheaper, yet still delicious.

Quinoa Salad with Chicken and Black Beans (my very first gluten-free potluck)

Jane, who was the Student Experience Office’s administrative assistant up until a short two days ago, is now working in a different campus office (we’re really, really happy she got the job, she is awesome!) so we decided to have a belated birthday/going away potluck for her.  Now for any of you who actually read what I write, you’ll know that Jane has an intolerance to gluten (which is unfortunately one of my favourite things in the world).

With Jane’s allergy in mind and my strange urge to cook something with quinoa, I decided to make Quinoa Salad with Chicken and Black Beans. I was extremely pleased when this salad turned out to be a siesta-in-a-bowl, with mexican-themed ingredients like corn and black beans.  With there not really being a dressing, I found it had a perfect balance of flavours.

Near death experience: Getting my food to the office is usually a difficult ordeal, and this morning proved no different.  My poor early-morning decision-making skills placed me in a tricky situation in which I found myself in a short dress balancing a big salad bowl in one hand, while trying the steer my bike with the other.  Normally, I am a perfectly competent single-handed bike rider, however the added challenge of me having to constantly readjust my dress as to not flash the universe, combined with the heat of my new jacket made the ride a pain.  Needless to say my ankle is now cut up from a near bike-tumbling experience (my superb balancing skills saved my life!).  I hope the pictures made this ride worth it!

Home this weekend, planning on cooking LOADS of tasty stuff for the fam!