3 Steps to Easily Make Your Own Salads (Restaurant Quality)

For some reason it always seems fun to get an interesting salad from a restaurant. They use ingredients I haven’t thought of or have on hand normally. They make me think that what they’ve done must be too difficult to do on my own. 

Thankfully creating restaurant quality salads is easier than replicating steaks, fish and so on. 
Below I’ve listed some ideas for ingredients. Feel free to add or subtract anything you’d like. That’s the best part about salads. You can add whatever you want to them!

1. Start here:

  • Keep some handy ingredients in your pantry and fridge
  • Make or buy some tasty salad dressings
  • Take 5 minutes or less and prepare your salad

2. Ingredients I like to have around:

  • Canned beans: white beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, etc.
  • Cheeses: Parmesan, goat, feta, cheddar, blue
  • Greens: romaine, iceberg, spinach, butter lettuces
  • Nuts and seeds: walnuts, pine nuts, sliced almonds, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds
  • Meats: salami, pepperoni, ham, turkey
  • Veggies: cucumber, carrots, tomatoes, red cabbage, sweet onion, red onion, peppers, 
  • Fruits: Dried cranberries, raisins, fresh peaches, blueberries, strawberries
  • Olives (I prefer jarred olives): green, kalamata, Greek
  • My favorite dressings: Balsamic Viniagrette (this one from Emeril is super easy and tasty!), and my newest favorite is a creamy basil dressing I made: bunch of fresh basil chopped, 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 1/4 cup full fat Greek yogurt, 2 tsp. lemon juice, pinch of salt and pepper to taste, 2 cloves fresh minced garlic. Mix all ingredients together in bowl or jar and spoon onto your salad. It’s thick!

3. Create:

  • Pick a few of the different ingredients that you have on hand and put them together. I usually bring the dressing along in a separate container if bringing it to work.
  • Here are some of my favorite combos:
    • romaine, red onion, peaches, pecans, cucumbers, tomatoes, goat cheese, balsamic dressing
    • iceberg, salami, green olives, feta cheese, tomatoes garbanzo beans, balsamic dressing
    • romaine, red cabbage, cheddar cheese, tomatoes, black beans, sweet onion, cucumbers, carrot (shredded), tortilla chips

Great ideas from other blogs / websites:

Have a favorite salad blend? Let me know in the comments!


My Favorite “Breads” to Bake

About a year and a half ago I got a bread machine from my mom for Christmas. That began my new passion for making homemade breads. Now when I say breads, I mean more than just your basic loaf. I’m going to highlight a few of my favorites today. There are some that can be done in as little as 30 minutes, and others that proof over night. The best part with each is that you control the ingredients. All have less than eight ingredients, which is by far less than most grocery store breads.


Super-Soft Whole Grain Sandwich Bread
This is my go to bread to make. We make toast and sandwiches with it. Start it the night before and when you get up, let your bread machine do the rest! I adapted a recipe from Peas and Thank You to work in my bread machine. Here’s the recipe.IMG_5125

Naan Bread (Indian style flat bread)

This stuff is great. It can be eaten by itself, used to dip into hummus, make a wrap or even as a pizza crust. Give yourself just over an hour for this one. No oven needed. You make it in a cast-iron skillet. This recipe from Budget Bytes is so tasty!


Pizza Dough (Quick!)
If you keep a few things on hand,  you can make homemade pizza in as much time as it takes to call and order it. I always have a jar of sauce, mozzarella cheese and pepperoni (only way my boys eat it) around. I found this recipe from Center Cut Cook that is easy and great! It only takes yeast, water, salt, olive oil, honey and four.


Dutch Oven Crusty Bread
This stuff tastes like you just sat down at a really good Italian restaurant. You won’t believe you created this with four ingredients. Flour, water, salt and yeast is all it takes and a lot of hours sitting on the counter. This is another overnight recipe. You don’t even have to knead it. Just stir with a wooden spoon. Here’s a simple recipe from Alaska From Scratch that is great!


HAPPY BAKING! And…In case you’re wondering, I buy only King Arthur brand flours. You can get them at most local grocery stores and I believe they’re worth the small extra cost.

Menu for the Week! June 1





Our discussion this morning with friends centered around finding some balance amongst the everyday things in life. One way that we’ve found some balance in our home is by doing some meal planning. It takes a little bit of time over the weekend, but the payoff during the week makes it well worth it. Here’s our menu for this week:


  • Pan-Fried Porkchopsthis one from the Pioneer Woman. Can’t wait to try it!
  • Mashed Potatoes – Make your favorite recipe, or pick up the refrigerated kind (just nothing boxed).
  • Roasted Cauliflowerthis one from Food Network is so good and easy! Even if you think you don’t like cauliflower I think you’ll like this.
  • Sliced Tomatoes – They’re in season right now and add great color to your plate.


  • Mexican Meatball Street Tacos – Don’t these just sound good? Looking forward to Tuesday. Here’s the recipe.
  • Mexican Three Bean Salad – This is great and you pretty much just dump some cans of beans and a few other things together, then mix. Here’s the recipe.
  • Corn – Take some frozen and saute it in some butter until lightly browned. If you really want to jazz it up add a little garlic and chopped red pepper.


  • Take-out night or Leftovers


  • Grilled Chicken with Lemon Basil Pasta – Another tasty dish from the Pioneer Woman.
  • Salad
  • Bread – Think you can’t make homemade bread? Thing again! Baguettes in 30 minutes. Trust me. These guys are easy and so tasty. You will love the smell in your house. Here’s the recipe with pictures and video.


  •  Pizza Night – make it at home and you can control the ingredients. There are some really easy crust recipes like this one, or you can buy the dough ready made (not the canned stuff). The trick for pizza is to pre-bake the crust until just golden, add just enough sauce (but not covered in thick sauce), cover in cheese (but still leaving room that you can see through the cheese to the sauce), then the toppings. If you put a lot of veggies on it, consider baking them first to remove some moisture so you don’t get soggy pizza.
  • Veggie Sticks

BBQ Chicken Pizza – Homemade Quick!


I like pizza, my wife likes pizza and my boys like pizza, which means we eat pizza at least once a week. My oldest son declared about a month ago that Friday night is pizza night. That holds true most weeks, but sometimes we make it over the weekend. Yes I just said make it. You’re probably thinking to yourself… I don’t have time for that. Try it though, and you’ll be hooked.

You see, when you make it yourself, you control what goes into it. (The chains don’t seem to care)

Tonight I made a BBQ chicken pizza for my wife and I, and a pepperoni pan pizza for the boys (sorry I forget to get a photo of that one). I started with the same dough recipe but baked them differently. Here are the recipes:

Start with homemade Pizza Dough Quick (You could always pick up some dough from the Publix bakery and let it rise, but this is easy):

  • 2 1/2 teaspoons rapid rise yeast (1 packet)
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

I made the two recipes below from one crust recipe. For a really thick crust, just make one pizza out of the homemade dough recipe.

Crust Directions for hand tossed / thin crust flavor:

  • In a large bowl, combine water with honey and then add yeast and stir until the yeast is dissolved (stir lightly).
  • Add in flour, salt, and olive oil and use a wooden spoon to combine.
  • Once the ingredients are well combined with the spoon, use your hands to knead the dough for a few minutes.
  • Form the dough into a ball, and let it rest for 10 minutes.
  • Pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees and spray a 16 inch pizza pan with non-stick cooking spray (or use pizza stone)
  • Roll the dough out into a 16 inch circle. Roll the edges of the dough.
  • Combine 2 tablespoons olive oil with Italian seasoning and brush the entire crust with this mixture.
  • Place the crust in the oven for 8 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and add sauce, cheese, and toppings.
  • Return the pizza to the oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the crust is crispy and the cheese is melted.
  • Cut into slices and enjoy!

BBQ Chicken Pizza Ingredients / Toppings:

  • 1/2 pound chicken cutlets. Brush a little bbq sauce on them (I used Trader Joe’s) and broil for ten minutes total (or less, just keep an eye on them). Once done, wrap up in foil to let the juices settle in. Then chop into chunks.
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese.
  • 3/4 cup cheddar cheese.
  • BBQ Sauce (I used Trader Joe’s).
  • 1/4 cup sliced red onions.
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro.

For a Pan Pizza:

  • Use a 9×13 inch metal baking pan and grease it with olive or canola oil.
  • After letting your dough rise, press it out into the pan. If needed, let it rest for a few minutes, then continue to press out to the edges, being careful not to tear or create holes in the crust.
  • Let sit in the pan for 10 minutes, then brush a little olive oil mixture onto it.
  • Place in the oven for 8 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and add sauce (I used Muir Glen brand in the can), cheese, and toppings (my boys only eat pepperoni pizza).
  • Return the pizza to the oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the crust is crispy and the cheese is melted.
  • Cut into slices and enjoy! (You won’t need Pizza Hut again!)


Chorizo Corn Bread


This corn bread can be a great side item or a main in and of itself! We enjoyed it with a side of braised brussels sprouts and green peas. I adapted the corn bread part of the recipe from the Pioneer Woman, but tweaked it. You could easily make it gluten by substituting gluten-free flour for the AP flour.


  • 1 package fresh chorizo sausage (not the hard dried kind)
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup milk (whole is best)
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 tablespoons coconut oil


  • Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
  • Combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Stir together.
  • Measure the buttermilk and milk into a measuring cup and add the egg. Stir together with a fork. Add the baking soda and stir.
  • Pour the milk mixture into the dry ingredients. Stir with a fork until combined.
  • In a small bowl, melt 2 tablespoons coconut oil in the microwave (not too hot). Slowly add the melted shortening to the batter, stirring until just combined.
  • Sautee onion and chorizo in a cast-iron skillet breaking up meat into small pieces. Cook until lightly browned.
  • In the cast-iron skillet, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of shortening with chorizo and onion mixture. Pour the batter into the hot skillet. (The batter should sizzle.) Spread to even out the surface. Cook on the stovetop for 1 minute, and then transfer to the oven and bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. The edges should be crispy! Test with a toothpick in the middle for doneness.
  • Cut and enjoy!




Tips for Better Pancakes


Here are my top two tips for pancakes no matter what recipe you use (though I have some favorites):

– Cook them in a cast-iron skillet. Nothing else gives you the same golden brown, crisp outside like at a restaurant. Make sure you let your pan heat up long enough and don’t cook higher than medium.

– Let your batter sit before cooking. After you mix together the dry and wet ingredients (never over mix), let the batter sit for about 10 minutes.

I’ll share some favorite pancake recipes and ingredients in another post, but this will get you started. Pancakes are easy and tasty to make at home!

Pumpkin Breakfast Cookies


My boys love breakfast items made with pumpkin. Pancakes, waffles and now cookies! Plus these cookies are wheat-free. So for anyone that’s looking for gluten-free recipes, you have to try this one. 

A quick search last night turned up a few recipes for “pumpkin breakfast cookies.” I browsed them and looked over the needed ingredients before settling on this one from a blog called “From the Little Yellow Kitchen.” The photo above shows how mine turned out. Plan on about 15 minutes of prep time and then 13 minutes of bake time.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies {Gluten-free}

Makes about 2 dozen cookies


2/3 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)

1 large egg

1 1/2 tsps pure vanilla extract

3/4 cup oat flour (rolled oats, well ground in food processor)

1  3/4 cup old fashioned rolled oats

1/4 cup pure maple syrup

1/4 cup dark brown sugar (light worked fine for me)

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1  1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1/8 tsp salt

3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup dried cranberries


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Set aside. Alternatively, you can lightly grease mini-muffin cups and baking cookies in there.

Make oat flour, by grinding about 1 1/4 cups oats in a food processor, until finely ground, about 1-2 minutes.

In bowl of stand mixer, combine pumpkin, egg, and vanilla and beat until well combined. In a separate bowl, combine oat flour, oats, maple syrup, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, spices, chocolate chips, and dried cranberries. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. The cookie dough will be thick.

Using a small cookie scoop, drop about 1 1/2 Tablespoons of dough onto prepared cookie sheets or mini muffin cups and slightly flatten to the shape you want your cookie, as they won’t move much in the oven.

Bake for 13-14 minutes until lightly browned. Allow to cool on the cookie sheet for a couple minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

Cookies will stay fresh at room temperature for 4 days in an airtight container, or for about a week in the fridge.

(From the Little Yellow Kitchen blog)


Morning Coffee – How About Some Corn Syrup Solids?

I love coffee, especially first thing in the morning. I’ve learned to drink it black sometimes, but my preference is still to have a fresh cup of french pressed coffee with cream and slightly sweetened (maple syrup is my go to these days). So what’s the difference between “creamer” and “cream.” It all makes the coffee creamy and tasty right? Well, sure if you want to drink up some corn syrup solids, partially hydrogenated oils and other things that you wouldn’t drink if they weren’t artificially flavored and colored to look like milk. So then why do so many people like this stuff? Who knows. It is one of those small switches you can make to change your diet.

Ingredients: water, corn syrup solids, partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil, and less than 2% of sodium caseinate (a milk derivative)**, dipotassium phosphate, mono- and diglycerides, sodium aluminosilicate, artificial flavor, carrageenan.

If you’re a fan of the flavored varieties of this “creamer” then just add a few extra artificial flavorings and maybe some more colors to the ingredient list above.

My recommendation is if you want cream, use real cream. If you really like flavored creamers, even Coffee Mate has a line of flavored creamers now called “Natural Bliss.” Go for it. Just don’t get the low fat or sugar free. When it’s low fat, it has added sugar. When it’s sugar free they just pump it with artificial sweeteners. Our bodies know how to process fat and real sugar, but they don’t know what to do with the fake, chemical things we put in there. 

Below is my pick from Organic Valley and they even have a french vanilla and hazelnut version:


Ingredients: Organic Grade A Milk, Organic Cream. 

p.s. For all of us with a Publix nearby, they sell organic Half & Half too.

Dinner Menu – Week of Feb. 23





  • Leftovers or Take-Out



Why Eat a Colorful Plate of Food?


Grilled Dinner

Having multiple colors of foods on your plate has benefits:

1. It’s visually appealing. We’re all typically more apt to enjoy things when they look nice.

2. You will include more vegetables and fruits, since they’re naturally more colorful that meat and starches.

3. Your body will get the nutrients it needs naturally. Each type of food with different colors contains different essential nutrients.

4. The meal will be more enjoyable overall.

The meal pictured here was a dinner I made with:
– pesto coated grilled chicken thighs
– grilled potato rounds
– grilled asparagus
– slaw with red cabbage, carrot, cilantro, cumin, salt, rice vinegar and olive oil
– sliced onion and yellow tomatoes