For this month’s Secret Recipe Club challenge, I was thrilled to be assigned a food blogger from my old home state of Colorado, Lea Ann Brown of Cooking on the Ranch. I so miss Colorado’s food blogging community! While I was tempted to try out several of Lea Ann’s breakfast recipes (anything with an egg is A-OK with me), I decided trying her Mexican Christmas Eve Salad would be more seasonally appropriate. Yes, yes, I know it’s June, but making a nice salad for dinner seems like a good idea when it’s too hot to cook. Don’t you agree?
I took Lea Ann’s advice and make this a chopped salad and arranged it in a trifle bowl, since she felt the Mexican Christmas Eve Salad reminded her of an English trifle. In addition, I did a little research on Ensalada de Nochebuena or Christmas Eve Salad. According to Hispanic Kitchen,
Although many variations exist, three ingredients are at the core: beets, pomegranate and jicama. The root vegetable – jicama is also known as "Mexican potato," so it's an appropriate member. Beets are included for color along with pomegranate seeds sprinkled across the top. Apples, oranges, and sometimes bananas round out the list.
Lea Ann’s version uses pomegranate seeds, romaine lettuce, peanuts, oranges, jicama, along with red and golden beets. I’ve seen other recipes use pepitas (pumpkin seeds), apples, bananas, and pine nuts. I kept pretty true to her recipe, but omitted the peanuts due to my daughter’s nut allergy. I’ll serve pepitas on the side if anyone’s interested in adding them to their salad, though I doubt my kids will go for it. For the dressing, most recipes call for Crème Mexicana, which is Mexican sour cream. If you cannot find it in your grocery store or want to use something lighter, use nonfat Greek yogurt instead. I found Lea Ann’s version super thick, so I thinned it with rice vinegar. Finally, I doubled Lea Ann’s recipe so it would fit in my Pampered Chef trifle bowl.
How to smoke beets
After having smoked cauliflower at Pulaski Heights BBQ in Athens, GA, I started experimenting by smoking various vegetables from beets to kohlrabi. While you can roast beets in the oven using my method for cooking and peeling beets, I love smoking beets in my electric smoker. Here’s how:
- Set smoker to 275 degrees. Add your favorite type of wood chips. And don’t forget to add water to the drip pan!
- Coat an oven safe roasting pan with cooking spray. (Make sure your pan will fit inside your smoker.)
- Remove beet tops from beets and set aside. (Use the beet tops to make a Simple Beet Salad.)
- Wash beets. Cut into quarters and place in your roasting pan.
- Place roasting pan in your smoker and cook for 3 hours or until the beets are soft when pricked with a knife or fork.
- Remove from smoker and let cool.
- Peel skin off beats with a paring knife.
Layered Mexican Christmas Eve Salad
- 6 red beets, smoked, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 romaine heart, coarsely chopped
- 1 small jicama, peeled and roughly chopped
- 4 navel oranges, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 (5.3 ounce) containers pomegranate arils
- 1/2 cup light mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup Crème Mexicana
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons orange juice
- 2 canned chipotle chilies, minced
- 4 tablespoons rice vinegar
- Layer ingredients in your trifle bowl in the order listed. For fun you may want to break up the romaine lettuce into two layers.
- Since beets have a tendency to run, you may want to have them as the bottom layer.
- In a small mixing bowl, combine ingredients and stir until blended.
- Serve on the side.
- Serving size: 1 large bowl
More from the Secret Recipe Club!
As I explained in last month’s Secret Recipe Club post for Spaghetti with Spicy Cauliflower Sauce, making pasta is a bit of an ordeal at my house since I only have two proper burners on my stovetop. So when I saw Robin from Robin Restored’s post on Crockpot Spaghetti, I thought, “This is the recipe I have to make for this month’s Secret Recipe Club challenge!”
Robin explains that Crockpot Spaghetti is her mom’s go-to recipe for family parties and people complain if she doesn’t make it. Robin’s version is sure to please, but I wanted to health it up a bit and make it gluten free. So here’s how I changed it:
- I used the leanest ground beef I could find instead of ground chuck. Buy the leanest you can find at your local store. If you read labels, you’ll notice that it has less fat than ground turkey. Feel free to use ground venison or buffalo, too. If you can find and afford organic or “natural” (grass fed with no antibiotics used) beef or buffalo, go for it!
- I used fresh ingredients like onions and garlic instead of powders and fresh mushrooms instead of canned.
- Instead of pepperoni slices, I decided to try it with chicken Italian sausage from Trader Joe’s. Their sausage is precooked, so I was able to cut it into chunks before placing it in the slow cooker. If the sausage you use isn’t precooked and you’re worried about it falling apart during cooking, place it whole into the crock. Then slice it up before serving.
- I used V8 instead of plain tomato juice since we had a bottle in the pantry. Any veggie and tomato juice blend will do!
- I also added some additional veggies – two yellow squashes. You could also use zucchini, eggplant or cauliflower. Slow cooking practically dissolved the squash and mushrooms, so their presence remained hidden from picky people in my family who claim not to like vegetables. (That’s my daughter, Lucie, who only eats carrots and cauliflower these days.)
- Finally, since I'm a Community Leader at Udi's Gluten Free, I'm always interested in making gluten free recipes, especially for the slow cooker. So I used brown rice penne pasta, and my family never noticed! Feel free to use whole wheat pasta instead if you don’t eat gluten free.
All in all, good reviews from the family and super easy and quick to make. The leftovers heat up well in the microwave without the pasta getting too mushy.
Healthy Slow Cooker Pasta
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1 1/2 fresh oregano, minced)
- 1 (15 ounces) can tomato sauce
- 4 ounces mushrooms (cut large mushrooms into halves or quarters)
- 3 1/2 cups V8 juice
- 1 package Italian flavored chicken sausage, sliced into bite sized chunks
- 2 yellow squash, cut into a large dice
- 1 (16 ounce) package brown rice penne pasta
- Over medium heat, place ground beef, onion and garlic into a large skillet. Cook until meat has browned. Drain well.
- Place browned meat into a large (6 to 8 quart) slow cooker.
- Add all remaining ingredients, except pasta. Stir well.
- Cover and cook on low 6-8 hours or high for 3 1/2 hours.
- Add pasta and cook for an additional 30 minutes or until pasta is done.
- Turn off slow cooker. Serve and enjoy!
- Serving size: 1/8 of recipe