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
More from the Secret Recipe Club!
Making pasta is a bit of an ordeal of my house, since I have to make regular whole wheat pasta as well as gluten free pasta. It’s made even more difficult because I have a 20-year-old Jenn Air range with only two working electric burners and two grill-like burners that take forever to heat up. This means I have to make the pasta first, then put it aside while I make the sauce. Then I have to reheat the pasta before serving. Needless to say, I can’t wait until we have enough money saved to do our kitchen remodel.
Even so, this month’s Secret Recipe Club assignment was enticing enough to deal with the inconvenience. I chose Melissa from Smell’s Like Brownies’ recipe for Spaghetti with Spicy Cauliflower Sauce for several reasons. First, it’s a terrific Meatless Monday dish, even if my husband thought I should have added some sausage to it. (Not a bad idea, frankly.) And second, because my daughter, Lucie, loves cauliflower.
Changes to the recipe and cooking tips
Changes: I didn’t change up too much in this dish, except for the way I cooked it. For example, I minded and left it in the pan instead of crushing the cloves and removing them later. I also partially cooked the cauliflower then added the onion and cooking both together instead of cooking them separately.
How to cut cauliflower: I don’t like tossing the cauliflower stems and just using the florets as it seems such a waste. Instead, I slice the cauliflower head into 1 inch slices, then break them apart with my hands into bite sized pieces. Yes, there’s a mixture of pretty and not-so-pretty pieces of cauliflower, but it all tastes good to me!
About the type of cheese: Any freshly grated Romano style cheese is perfect with this dish. I used a Romano-Pecorino cheese from Trader Joe’s that’s very tasty, so feel free to experiment!
The convenience of Gourmet Garden herbs: Instead of fresh parsley, I used Gourmet Garden parsley instead. I’ve been having a lot of fun experimenting with Gourmet Garden’s products, and love the convenience of squeezing out just enough for a recipe without having to buy a whole bunch of herbs. There’s nothing worse than throwing rotten parsley into the compost bin because you didn’t have another use for it before it went bad. If you wish, use the same amount of fresh parsley instead.
Serving the sauce: Since I made two kinds of pasta, I served the sauce on top of it instead of dumping all the pasta into the sauce pot. This also is a better way to do things if you plan to have leftovers as the sauce will soften the pasta, so by the time you reheat it, it’s sort of mushy.
Salt your water: Finally, don’t forget to liberally salt your pasta cooking water. In my opinion, this practically eliminates the need to add extra salt to your pasta sauce.
Spaghetti with Spicy Cauliflower Sauce
- 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
- 1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into bite sized pieces
- 3 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced
- 1 pound whole wheat or gluten free spaghetti
- 1/2 to 1 cup freshly grated Romano-Pecorino cheese
- Start cooking the pasta according to package directions while you make the sauce. Drain and return the pasta to the pot.
- Heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium heat in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet.
- Add the cauliflower and minced garlic. Sauté, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes.
- Add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and the sliced onion to the pan and cook until golden brown – about 10 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes and red pepper to the onion and cook until slightly thickened, about 2 to 3 minutes.
- Then stir in the parsley and 1/4 cup of the grated cheese.
- Place one serving of pasta in a bowl or plate and liberally top with sauce. Serve immediately with extra cheese and crushed red pepper.
- Serving size: 1/4 of recipe
More from the Secret Recipe Club!
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Gourmet Garden provided me with samples of their products to try out in my cooking. All opinions and experiences are my own.
After taking a break for the holidays, I’m once again participating in the Secret Recipe Club. This month’s assigned blog was Secrets of the Cookie Princess. While Colleen, the Cookie Princess, is obsessed with cookie baking, she also likes to cook up other dishes like Chicken Enchilada Soup and Crispy Quinoa Bites, which are two recipes to I’ve placed on my “To Cook” list.
I decided to make her Crockpot Lemon and Herb Roast Chicken as an excuse to use the whole organic chicken that had been sitting in my freezer for the past few months. I also chose this recipe since it uses items I always have on hand like fresh rosemary from the garden and garlic. Plus it’s based on this recipe from my friend, Stephanie O’Dea. I urge you to read Stephanie’s recipe as it’s quite funny. Her tale about “scaring the cats bald” had me cracking up.
Good, not great
My Slow Cooker Lemon, Garlic and Rosemary Chicken was a disappointment. Even though the chicken was sitting in its own juices, the breast meat tasted dry. The lemon and rosemary were overpowering and gave the chicken an almost astringent taste. Also, I could barely taste the garlic, which was unbelievable considering how much I used. However, the baby potatoes were delicious and perfectly cooked!
Ideas for improvement: Next time I attempt to make this dish, I would only use one lemon and one sprig of fresh rosemary. I’d also add something sweet, like maybe slices from one orange and 1/4 cup of maple syrup, sorghum, honey, or agave nectar poured over the top before cooking. Also, I’d keep the skin on to add moisture to the breast meat. Finally, I’d check the chicken after three hours. I cooked the chicken for five hours and it was falling off the bone, which made for a lousy presentation. (This explains why I had to photograph it in the crock rather than on a pretty platter.)
Slow Cooker Lemon, Garlic and Rosemary Chicken
- 1 (3 to 4) pound whole chicken, thawed and skinned
- 1 head of garlic – cloves separated and peeled
- 2 lemons, washed and sliced
- 1 bunch fresh rosemary or 2-3 tablespoons dried rosemary
- 1 pound baby potatoes
- Sea salt and pepper as desired
- Rinse chicken, then remove skin and pat dry.
- Rub salt and pepper in and outside of chicken.
- Place chicken in a 4-5 quart slow cooker.
- Place half of the peeled cloves into the cavity of the chicken.
- Place half the lemon slices inside the chicken.
- Place the remaining garlic and lemon slices on top of the chicken.
- Place baby potatoes around the sides of the chicken.
- Place rosemary over top of chicken and potatoes.
- Cook on low for 4 to 5 hours.
- When finished cooking, remove lemon slices and rosemary, and discard.
- Cut up chicken and serve.
- Serving size: 1/4 to 1/6 of recipe
More from the Secret Recipe Club!
Today’s Secret Recipe Club recipe should be perfect for anyone with too much zucchini in the garden and too much zucchini bread in the freezer. That was the case with Andrea of Adventures in All Things Food when she created her recipe for My Zucchini Troubles Turned Zucchini Bread Pancakes.
Since we had no garden this year, I went and bought a zucchini. In case you have to do the same, one smallish zucchini makes about 2 cups of shredded zucchini. So much for eyeballing it because I bought three! Oh well, another excuse to make more zucchini pancakes!
I made a few substitutions to make the zucchini pancakes gluten free and dairy free, but feel free to use Andrea’s original recipe. My kids ate theirs covered in flavored applesauce. I used tofu sour cream on mine. Delish!
Zucchini Bread Pancakes
- 2 cups packed zucchini, shredded and patted dry
- Cooking spray
- 2 large eggs
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- 3 tablespoons agave nectar
- 1/4 cup tofu sour cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup gluten free all purpose flour mix
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 lemon, zested
- Grate your zucchini first, pat dry with a paper towel to remove excess moisture and set aside.
- Preheat your pancake skillet. Coat with cooking spray when heated.
- In a medium bowl combine the eggs, oil, agave, tofu sour cream, and vanilla extract. Whisk well.
- Stir in the shredded zucchini.
- In a large bowl whisk together the remaining ingredients, minus the lemon zest.
- Add the wet mix to the dry mix. Add the zest and fold everything in till all ingredients are moistened.
- Pour 1/4 cup of pancake batter in your preheated skillet.
- Cook until golden on one side and bubbles start to form on the top.
- Flip and wait till the other side turns golden brown.
- Serving size: 1 pancake