Harvest Rainbow Mason Jar Salad with Creamy Pesto Dressing

Rainbow Collage4Most experts agree that there is no comparison between fresh and dried basil in terms of flavor. The fresh leaves have a flavor complexity and intensity that is largely lost in the dried form. If storing for a week or less, basil can be wrapped in several layers of paper towels and placed in an airtight or Ziplock bag and stored in the highest section of the refrigerator where it will stay fresh for several days. It can also be stored for a few days in a glass of water placed on a counter top. ~Herb Society of America Guide

This week gently heralds in a new school year and I am back to work for two days of professional development. It has been a spectacular summer full of gardening, organizing our house, and reading and writing for pleasure. Yet, I am ready to reclaim my work schedule.

The morning glories that my mom planted from seed for me started blooming last week.

The morning glories that my mom planted from seed for me started blooming last week.

This school year I am changing things up a bit when it comes to my cooking routine. Normally I shop on Friday night or Saturday afternoon and engage in a cooking marathon for the week’s meals on Sunday. This fall I am going to try to break my grocery gathering up into segments. I will shop on Wednesdays after work and cook on Thursday and Friday (Thursday a large pot of soup and Friday a couple of entrees for both Mike and I). On Saturday I will take a trip to the Marquette Food Co-op and will assemble my Mason Jar Salads. Monday I will leave myself open to the possibility of another quick trip to the market.

Last year, submerged in piles of essays to grade, grocery shopping and cooking started to feel like a chore instead of a pleasure. I am hoping that my new routine will make meal preparation more manageable and help free up precious time on the weekend to grade, blog, do housework, and spend time with Mike, family, and friends. I also think that pre-weekend cooking will help me make strong food choices on the weekend since I will have healthy food already prepared.

When I joined Weight Watchers in 2006 I found that planning and prepping my meals was essential to my weight management success. I never allow myself the excuse that I do not have enough time. I make time for my health.

This summer, when I had the luxury of more free time on my hands, I tried to be flexible and spontaneous with meals and during the week took many small trips to the store and 7farmers market for fresh fruit and vegetables. I think that breaking my shopping into small trips actually helped save money and time. I found that I have not been dreading the weekly shopping and since I often grab one of the hand-held baskets, (instead of a large shopping cart) I am not stockpiling food and I am only buying what we will eat for the week.

One item that has not been on my list in the past couple weeks is tomatoes. My tomato plants have perfect timing and each day I am able to harvest enough ripe fruit for the day’s meals. I wait all summer for the candy-sweet tomatoes straight off the vine and I am savoring each juicy bite.

While my tomatoes have persisted and were able to survive our cold and rainy summer in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, my basil plants have not done as well. While I have been able to pluck quite a few clusters of leaves for basil vinaigrette and a few slices of bruschetta, the plants have remained small and many of the leaves are brown (a woman at the farmers market told me this was due to the cold temperatures we have experienced this summer). 3

Since one of my favorite fall food combinations is tomatoes and basil, I have been disappointed my lackluster basil crop. This Saturday my friend Brenda gave me a generous gift of robust basil plants from her father’s garden. The plants are healthy and thriving and I am so thankful.

I love the aroma of basil and this morning I picked a bowl of fresh tomatoes for tonight’s dinner. I will be making Vitamix recipe for a raw dish: Zucchini Pasta with Pomodoro Sauce (with extra basil, of course). This coming weekend I am planning on making homemade pizza topped with plenty of basil, green and ripe tomatoes, Greek olives, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil. As I type I am also imagining tomato and basil soup with fresh spaghetti squash from my garden.

Earlier this summer my recipe for Raspberry Basil Vinaigrette Dressing received many positive reviews. So yesterday I decided that I needed to come up with another basil dressing for a batch of Mason Jar Salads. I wanted a creamy dressing that featured the intense aroma and flavor of basil. Naturally, pesto came to mind.

Here is my version of a plant-based Creamy Pesto Salad Dressing that uses raw cashews as a thickening agent. A traditional pesto recipe would use pine nuts, but I did not have any on hand. I think that any nuts would work; almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds. Next time I make this dressing I will toss in a few pine nuts but will still stick to raw cashews since I like the creamy texture that they yield. If you wanted to make this dressing a vinaigrette you could leave out the nuts. If you eat dairy you could also add a fresh grating of Parmigiano-Reggiano to the blender or to your salad. 1CREAMY PESTO SALAD DRESSING

  • 1/2 cup of vinegar (I used 1/4 cup of white balsamic vinegar and 1/4 cup of raw 5apple cider vinegar. You may want to vary the amount of vinegar based on how tart you like your dressing. I recommend adding a little bit at a time and tasting the dressing with a bit of celery. I enjoy my dressing extremely tart and often sprinkle more vinegar on my salad before serving.)
  • 1/2-1 cup of fresh basil leaves (depending on how strong you want the flavor to be. I also tossed in a few extra leaves in the blender for good measure)
  • 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil (you can always leave the oil out and add it individually to your salad for portion control)
  • 1/4 cup of raw cashews (you could substitute almonds, walnuts, or nuts of choice)
  • 1/4 cup of water (the dressing was thick so I thinned it out with some water. You could add extra vinegar. If you want to use it as a dip you could leave it thick)
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 1 lemon ~ juice and zest
  • Chives (I used fresh since I have chives in my garden. If you do not have fresh chives you could add a little bit of onion)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Blend until smooth

The dressing turned out just as flavorful as I imagined it would. I knew that the salad that I created to accompany it had to be extra special. Since I had purchased a wide variety of fruit and vegetables I decided to capture a rainbow in a jar.

2When making Mason Jar Salads it is important to put the dressing in first and keep it away from the greens. The acid in the dressing will make the greens slimy. If you close tight (I do not vacuum seal my jars) they will keep for over a week in the refrigerator. When you are ready to eat you can shake, and either pour the salad out on a plate or bowl, or eat straight out of the jar. I find with the quart sized Mason Jars that I need extra dressing. Sometimes I add extra vinegar or lemon juice to the bottom as well as the dressing.

I made two versions of the Harvest Rainbow Mason Jar Salad. For the first one I layered the following:11

  • Three Tablespoons of Creamy Pesto Dressing
  • Quartered cherry tomatoes
  • Sliced nectarines
  • Yellow bell pepper
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • White beans
  • Romaine lettuce

For the second version I layered the following:

  • 8Three Tablespoons of Creamy Pesto Dressing
  • White beans
  • Quartered radishes and cherry tomatoes
  • Carrots
  • Quartered yellow tomatoes and yellow bell pepper
  • Broccoli florets
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Pickled beets
  • Romaine lettuce

Since part of the charm of the Mason Jar Salads are how visually appealing they are I think it is important to make them as pretty as possible. Plus, by filling them with a vibrant rainbow of fruit and vegetables we are making sure that we are meeting our nutritional needs.

If you are interested in other Mason Jar Salads, please check out my other salad recipes. I also have other plant-based salad dressing recipes. You can follow my recipes on Pinterest and please like my Produce with Amy Facebook page.

My goal for fall and winter is to continue coming up with new recipes and to blog at least once a week. As always, I really appreciate feedback if you try my recipes. I am so thankful to my readers and love that together we can embrace a healthy lifestyle.

I would like to extend a thank you to my dear friend, and Weight Watchers receptionist, Brenda and her father for the gift of basil. It really made my weekend special and I appreciate your kindness.

In the coming weeks Brenda has agreed to do a guest blog so I can feature the story of her incredible weight loss journey. Brenda has lost seventy pounds and for the past two years has done an amazing job maintaining her loss. I am thankful for her friendship and the way she inspires, motivates, and helps keep me (and our entire Weight Watchers group) accountable. Brenda strives to educate herself about nutrition and is always aiming to understand what her body needs to stay healthy, fit, and energized.

Since I launched Produce with Amy in January of 2013, Brenda has been my biggest fan and supporter. She is always willing to give my recipes a try and her belief in me helps give me the confidence and the drive to keep experimenting and coming up with new recipes.  If you know Brenda, make sure you encourage her to write her guest post so others can be inspired by her hard work, determination, and weight management tips and advice. I am excited to share her story with you!

6I know that Brenda will be trying the Creamy Pesto Dressing and I hope that you do too. If you do not have basil in your garden (or a generous friend who will share) make sure you check out your local farmers market or produce section of the grocery store for fresh basil.

Fill your plate (and Mason jars) with a vibrant rainbow. Your health will thank you.

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Creamy Pesto DressingRainbow Plate

Harvest Rainbow Mason Jar Salad with Creamy Pesto Dressing

Harvest Rainbow Mason Jar Salad with Creamy Pesto Dressing

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Embrace the Old-Fashioned with Two Homemade Raspberry Vinaigrette Recipes: Basil & Mint

“We are asleep with compasses in our hands. ”
― W.S. Merwin

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A couple of years ago, when my niece Kristine was in high school, she gave a demonstration speech on how to can dill pickles. After her presentation, when she told me that there were students in her class that did not know that pickles were once cucumbers, I was shocked. Really? How could this happen in a rural community where vegetable gardens commonly sprout in backyards? I guess that I took it for granted that others grew up in a household similar to the one in which I was raised. Pre-bread machines my mom always made homemade bread, cake and frosting were whipped up from scratch, macaroni-and-cheese did not come out of a box, and on a weekly basis stock pots of aromatic soup simmered on the stove. Did we eat junk food and drink soda? Yes. Yet, my mom always made sure our diet was balanced out by home cooked meals and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Even when we spent long, summer days at the beach the slow-cooker was preparing some sort of wholesome, savory dish. Fast food did not exist in our hometown (aside from the seasonal drive-in restaurant) and take-out and dinners at restaurants were rare and special indulgences.

Granted, times have changed, but I think that in some ways we need to go back to the way things were in the past. My mom grew up in a large Finnish-American family with six other siblings, and because finances were lean, they had to learn how to be resourceful. I am thankful that Mom passed this resourcefulness on to me. In October of 2010, I wrote more about the lessons that my mom has instilled in me. Here is the piece that I wrote on the educational blog that I share with my best friend Heather Hollands, called Blended Voices.

The next time you are in line at the supermarket, reflect on the choices in your cart (and even other shoppers around you). It is common to hear (and participate) in conversations about how expensive groceries are these days. Yet, when you take a look at what is tossed into grocery carts there often are cheaper alternatives. Think of how many raw potatoes can be purchased for the price of a bag of potato chips. How many bags of dried beans can be purchased for the cost of canned? Compare the cost of individually packaged instant oatmeal versus a tub of old-fashioned oats. While they may be expensive, how many cherries or grapes could a twelve pack of soda purchase?

While I try to keep my grocery cart limited to whole foods, I do confess to occasional convenience food purchases. Though, I try to be more mindful of making our favorite meals by scratch, because not only is it more economical, but more nutritional as well. Plus, I like to believe that when I stretch my grocery dollar I can afford to put more organic fruit and vegetables on our table.

As I have shared in previous posts, not only are some convenience foods easy to make, but cooking from scratch helps us avoid putting chemicals into our bodies. The next time you pick up a can of soup carefully scan the ingredients. How about salad dressing? Can you pronounce the long list of additives and preservatives? If not, you might want to think about making your own. The base of vinaigrette dressings are simple: vinegar and oil and spices. For creamy dressings I add a base of raw nuts or plant-based sour cream or mayonnaise (if you eat dairy you can use mayo, Greek yogurt, or sour cream). The beauty of making your own dressing is that you can tailor them to suit your taste buds. My husband Mike and I  tend to like tangy dressings, so my vinaigrettes are heavy on vinegar and citrus juice.

Since it is summer and berries are ripe, and my garden is brimming with fresh herbs, I thought that a perfect recipe to share would be a berry vinaigrette. I choose raspberries but you could easily swap out strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, mango, pineapple, pears, plums, or peaches. In the winter frozen berries and dried herbs would work well too.

Berry vinaigrettes tend to be of the sweeter dressing variety, but instead of refined sugar I sweetened these dressings with freshly squeezed orange. (Since oranges are not in season and hard to find in some stores you could easily add mango, pineapple, peach, or another sweet fruit to the blender.)
Raspberry Basil Vinaigrette: Dijon Mustard, Orange Juice, Onion, Raspberries, Basil, White Balsamic Vinegar, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Chives, and Salt & Pepper.

Raspberry Basil Vinaigrette: Dijon Mustard, Orange Juice, Onion, Raspberries, Basil, White Balsamic Vinegar, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Chives, Garlic, and Salt & Pepper.

107RASPBERRY BASIL VINAIGRETTE

  • 1/2-1 Cup White Balsamic Vinegar (or vinegar of choice. Add in a little at a time and taste test so you can monitor the level of desired tartness)
  • 1/2 Cup Raspberries (or your berry or fruit of choice)
  • 1/2 Cup of Basil (if you are not a fan of basil you could use your favorite herb)
  • 1/8-1/4 Cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (you could also add more. To keep the dressing more friendly on the waist-line I often keep the oil to a minimum and add the desired portion of oil directly to the salad)
  • Juice and Zest of 1/2 an Orange (Orange juice will give the berry vinaigrette a desired sweetness without adding refined sugar)117
  • 1 Tablespoon of Dijon Mustard (I used spicy brown mustard because that is what I had on hand)
  • 1 Tablespoon of Onion
  • 1 Tablespoon Chives (I have chives in my garden so I add them to all my dressings in the summer)
  • 1 Clove of Garlic
  • Salt and Pepper to Taste (or you can leave out and season the salad)

Blend well. You can chop and mix with a whisk, but I find that a blender is so easy and makes a smooth dressing.

My salad combination: Avocado, shredded carrots, radish, white beans, Greek olives, tomato, pickled beets, cucumbers, raw nuts, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and a sprinkling of chia seeds.

My salad combination: Avocado, shredded carrots, radish, white beans, Greek olives, tomato, pickled beets, cucumbers, raw nuts, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and a sprinkling of chia seeds.

As delicious as it is pretty.

As delicious as it is pretty. I love the nutritional boost that chia seeds give to a salad.

The next version of raspberry vinaigrette includes fresh mint. I love mint with both sweet and savory dishes and I wanted a dressing that would work with both. I was thinking that this would be a great dressing for a fruit salad (but I would use it on vegetables as well). This version is a little less savory because it leaves out the garlic and onion.

Raspberry Mint Vinaigrette: Raspberries, Mint, White Balsamic Vinegar, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Juice of 1/2 a Lemon, Juice of 1/2 an Orange, Chives, and Salt and Pepper.

Raspberry Mint Vinaigrette: Raspberries, Mint, White Balsamic Vinegar, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Juice of 1/2 a Lemon, Juice of 1/2 an Orange, Chives, and Salt and Pepper.

104RASPBERRY MINT VINAIGRETTE

  • 1/2-1 Cup White Balsamic Vinegar (or vinegar of choice. Add in a little at a time and taste test so you can monitor the level of desired tartness)
  • 1/2 Cup Raspberries (or your berry or fruit of choice)
  • 1/2 Cup of Mint (mint is perennial and will come up in you garden year-after-year)
  • 1/8-1/4 Cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (you could also add more. To keep the dressing more friendly on the waist-line I often keep the oil to a minimum and add the desired portion of oil directly to the salad)
  • Juice and Zest of 1/2 an Orange (Orange juice 108will give the berry vinaigrette a desired sweetness without adding refined sugar)
  • Juice of 1/2 a Lemon
  • 1 Tablespoon Chives (I have chives in my garden so I add them to all my dressings in the summer)
  • Salt and Pepper to Taste (or you can leave out and season the salad)Blend well and serve on your favorite salad combination.
My salad: Spinach, Avocado, Cantaloupe, Strawberries, Blueberries, and Raspberries.

My salad: Spinach, Avocado, Cantaloupe, Strawberries, Blueberries, and Raspberries.

The raspberries and mint make a bright and refreshing combination.

The raspberries and mint make a bright and refreshing combination.

Do not forget to add a couple candles and set a pretty table.

Do not forget to add a couple candles and set a pretty table. Poetry does make food taste better!

I had both of the salads featured in this post yesterday and made another one today for lunch. I am excited to try the recipe with different berries and I think it is going to be a staple in our house. Since I have a lot of basil and mint in my garden I will make sure to freeze some to use in dressings this winter.

Today as I prepared to write this post I could not help thinking about the generations before us that did not have access to convenience foods and had to make the most of what they had on hand. I think that things are changing, and as an American nation, we are starting to become more careful label readers. I always tell my students that their generation has the capacity to be wiser than my generation has been about food choices. Their generation understands the importance of recycling and taking advantage of what we have. I often tell them that one of my favorite hobbies is to go thrift-store shopping for vintage items. In fact, this is how I spent my time  this afternoon. 

Today’s thrift-store treasure came in the form of delicate, etched, vintage glasses. If we had a larger house (and if I loved to dust) I would have hundreds of these little beauties. 11I would not want a complete set either, because I love the variety of patterns and shapes they come in. I could easily be a vintage glass hoarder (especially at 25 cents each).119

These glasses are a great reminder of how much our portion sizes have changed. Not only are they beautiful, but they are so much smaller than the gargantuan goblets that are purchased in modern times.

I like to think of food in the same old-fashioned way that I appreciate 13vintage pieces and I will continue to strive to eat whole foods and make the extra time to takes to prepare meals that are nutritionally sound and fuel my body.

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Roses from our garden.

If you have found your way to my blog, I imagine that we share the same philosophy and I thank you for sharing this journey. For more salad dressing recipes you can check out the Dressing Tab. You can follow my board on Pinterest and join the conversation on my Produce with Amy Facebook page.

I do tend to be old-fashioned about many things. I would wear a dress over jeans any day, I love the word ice-box, and I believe in setting a beautiful table. I believe that food made with love, and attention to detail, tastes better.

This week, or weekend, I challenge you to do something to make your dining experience more enjoyable. Float some flowers in a vintage glass bowl, use your Grandmothers doilies as a table runner, or make your salad look like a piece of art. Find, create, and appreciate beauty and your life, and the lives of those around you, will be richer.

Raspberry Basil Vinaigrette

Click on image for a larger version.

Raspberry Mint Vinaigrette

Click on image for a larger version.

While I do not want to rush summer, this fall I look forward to going to my hometown of Crystal Falls to can pickles with my mom and Kristine. Do you know where the food on your table came from? How about starting with some homemade dressing. I promise, you will be hooked and may never buy bottled dressing again.