Strawberry and Spinach Salad with Simple Balsamic Vinaigrette

The combination of flavors in this salad is incredible: Sweet strawberries, salty feta, savory chicken breast, and tangy balsamic. I'll be making this all spring and summer long!

strawberry-spinach-salad-balsamic vinaigrette-1

During spring and summer I love to make salads.  We often have them with dinner, especially when I can go right out to my garden for some lettuce and greens.  

The day I made this salad, it was our main dish.  With plenty of protein from the chicken, fat from the avocado, and lots of spinach and other goodies, it was the perfect spring dinner.

You can choose to add chicken and make it a meal, or serve as a side salad without it. Either way I think you're going to love it!

I need to point out that not pictured are WALNUTS! They were a great addition to the salad after I had taken the photos - oops!

This is a simple salad to throw together, and the vinaigrette couldn't be easier!

strawberry-spinach-salad-balsamic vinaigrette-2

Here is my recipe for Strawberry and Spinach Salad with Simple Balsamic Vinaigrette, adapted from here.

 

Strawberry and Spinach Salad with Simple Balsamic Vinaigrette

Ingredients:

Vinaigrette:

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1.5 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 3/4 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp dijon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper

Salad:

  • 5 oz spinach
  • 1 - 2 chicken breasts (depending on size and how hungry you are!), cooked and chopped (see Note) 
  • 1 avocado, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 cup feta, crumbled
  • 5 large strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • a few slices red onion
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Directions:

  1. Make the vinaigrette by combining the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sugar, dijon, salt and pepper.  Whisk until blended.
  2. Add spinach to a large bowl and top with most of the vinaigrette. Toss well to coat the spinach. Then add chicken, avocado, feta, strawberries, red onion, and walnuts. Pour on remaining vinaigrette and lightly toss combine, and serve.

Note: You can cook the chicken any way you like: on the grill, in the slow cooker, or use leftover cooked chicken.  Here is my new favorite way to prepare chicken breasts for salads: 

  1. Place chicken breasts in a large ziplock bag and pound lightly, just to get the thicker part to be the same thickness as the thinner part.
  2. Liberally add salt and pepper to both sides of the chicken.
  3. Cook in a cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Cook for about 3 minutes on one side to sear it, then flip chicken breasts over.  Cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes to sear the other side, then turn down to low.  I have a digital thermometer that will beep when the chicken gets to 165.  So I put that in the thickest part of the chicken breast, cover the pan, and wait until it's ready.  I flip it a couple more times before it is finished, and it should take about 15 minutes.  Every time they turn out flavorful and juicy!

Since I'm on a salad kick now I'm trying to think of different combinations to try. What are your favorite salad ingredients?

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Honey Balsamic Chicken and Veggies (Another Sheet Pan Meal!)

This one-pan meal is as simple as throwing together a marinade and chopping some veggies. It's best to marinate the chicken for a few hours and you'll see that the combination of honey and balsamic paired with fresh herbs is Amazing!

honey balsamic chicken and veggies

One thing I love about sheet pan meals is that the clean up is so easy! I don't know about you, but spring time is very busy for us with gymnastics, soccer, baseball, and scouts. I find that if I have this meal prepped before I pick up the kids from school, I can pop it in the oven when we get home and there's time to sit down for a meal before we need to get back in the car and head out.  

Then all I have to clean up are the 1-2 pans I used, and since I usually use parchment paper,  I just toss that out, and quickly wash the pan.  I don't know why I didn't start using parchment paper earlier! It's definitely one of my kitchen favorites right now.

I have made this recipe several times now and every time I make it we just can't get enough of it! The kids like the chicken but they're pretty particular about how they like their veggies. They would willingly eat the carrots in this, but I have to make them eat just one piece of the other veggies.  I figure if I keep making them try whatever they don't prefer, they'll start to like it more, or at least tolerate it until their palates mature a bit.

Jeff and I, on the other hand, keep going back for more of the veggies.  The combination of the marinated chicken and the veggies is so darn good!  You can really taste the honey and balsamic on the chicken, and the marinade helps to flavor the veggies as well. 

honey balsamic chicken and veggies

I used boneless skinless chicken thighs in this recipe because they are so flavorful and if they overcook a little, they won't dry out. But if you prefer chicken breasts, those will work too. And substitute whatever veggies you like or have on hand. Recipes can almost always be adapted to what you have in your fridge and pantry.  Don't be afraid to stray from the recipe!

Here are my two pans, ready to go in the oven:

honey balsamic chicken and veggies

 

Honey Balsamic Chicken and Veggies

adapted from this recipe on tiphero.com

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 large zucchini
  • 1 cup chopped carrots (I used a couple handfuls of baby carrots)
  • 1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 onion, chopped,
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • fresh parsley (optional)
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil, grapeseed oil, or avocado oil 

For the marinade:

  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 5 tbsp honey
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped (or substitute 1/2 tsp garlic powder)
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425. Line pans with parchment paper or grease pans.
  2. Prepare the marinade by mixing all marinade ingredients in a bowl.  Put chicken thighs into a ziplock bag, pour the marinade in, and make sure the chicken is coated with the marinade. Place in refrigerator for at least an hour, but up to 4-6 hours increases the flavor even more.
  3. Chop the veggies, put in large bowl and toss with oil, salt and pepper.
  4. Divide the veggies between 2 sheet pans (you don't want them to be too overcrowded).
  5. Divide the chicken between the 2 pans on top of the veggies, and pour the remaining marinade evenly over the chicken and veggies.
  6. Cook in preheated oven for about 40 minutes, stirring the veggies about halfway through.
  7. To serve, add chopped parsley for some freshness and color. Enjoy!

If you make this, let me know what you think! Are there any other recipes you'd like to see? If so let me know!

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Sheet Pan Sausage and Potatoes with Mustard Vinaigrette

Sheet Pan Sausage and Potatoes with Mustard Vinaigrette is simple to prepare and can be mixed and matched with whatever meat and veggies you have on hand!

sheet pan sausage and potatoes

Sheet pan dinners are my favorite lately!  I don't think it gets simpler than this.   Usually I simply season with salt and pepper, and maybe some Fox Point Seasoning (if you haven't tried this spice blend from Penzeys, you must!).  This time I made a mustard vinaigrette from budgetbytes.com to pour over the top after it cooked and it was the perfect accompaniment for the sausage and veggies.

I was planning on just doing the sausage, potatoes, and cabbage but since I had some chicken breast in the fridge as well, I decided to chop those up and throw them on the pan, too.  That's the great thing about sheet pan dinners - you can throw almost anything on there! For protein I like to do chicken, sausage, and salmon. For veggies I like grape tomatoes, brussels sprouts, zucchini, onion, whole garlic cloves, potatoes, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.  The combinations are endless! Just toss with some oil, salt and pepper, roast for about 30 minutes and dinner is ready!  

When I made this I also wanted broccoli but I was out of room on the 2 pans so I steamed it instead, which is how my kids prefer to eat broccoli anyway. The vinaigrette was poured on at the end and it was seriously so, so good!

sheet pan sausage and potatoes

Here's the recipe, slightly adapted from this recipe on budgetbytes.com:

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs mild italian sausage links
  • 2 lbs small yellow potatoes, diced
  • 1/2 head cabbage, cored and sliced
  • 3 chicken breasts (or thighs)
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper (I sprinkled on my new favorite seasoned salt before it went in the oven)

For the vinaigrette:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar (see my post on the health benefits of ACV here
  • 2 Tbsp coarse mustard
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper (this is optional but I love the easy cleanup with parchment paper).
  2. Toss the potatoes in a bowl with a  couple teaspoons of olive oil, salt and pepper, and pour out onto baking sheet.  Lay the cabbage pieces on the baking sheet, brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  
  3. Cut the chicken into large pieces, toss with olive oil and salt and pepper and place on baking sheet.  Put sausage onto baking sheet.
  4. Bake for 30 - 40 minutes or until the sausage and chicken are cooked through. Halfway through, lightly stir the potatoes and flip the sausage.
  5. While the meat and veggies are cooking, make the vinaigrette:  Put all ingredients into a bowl and stir, or into a jar and shake. 
  6. I had the vinaigrette on the table so we could put on how much we wanted. The kids didn't want it but Jeff and I thought it was awesome!
sheet pan sausage and potatoes

I still have some vinaigrette left over so I think I'll make this again next week. It's definitely a repeat recipe!

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Thoughts on Paleo and Grain-Free Eating

I know, it's been 4 months since my last post. Yikes! I started working 2 days a week and it has been hard to find the time. But I really miss connecting with you! And I've been learning a lot and this is my favorite place to share what I know about nutrition and health. This is sort of a random update, but a short one, and I'd love to hear your thoughts...

I have been listening to some great podcasts and learning a lot about how to be even healthier, and how following a Paleo-type diet really is the best way to eat. I can't believe I'm finally saying that, but from what I've been learning, grains (especially wheat) are not healthy. Most grains are not good for us and I'm finally coming around to accepting that. I will be writing more about that in future posts, and sharing some recipes as well.  But for now I wanted to let you know that I am heading in that direction. Not strict Paleo, but I'm cutting out most grains and the excessive sweets I was eating.

I'm sure some of you avoid wheat, or grains, or both, and I'd love to hear from you! I could use some tips because it is quite a shift.  My kids still eat a decent amount of grains because it is harder to do a complete change in kids' attitudes and diets, but they're definitely not eating as many grains, and I'm trying to educate them along the way. If you do follow a Paleo diet or restrict grains, do you have a veggie spiralizer that you can recommend? I already miss pasta so I'm going to need one of those!

Here are some changes I've made lately that are making me feel great and have more energy.

1. Intermittent fasting. This is a big topic and one I may cover later.  A few days a week I don't eat from about 7pm - 11am.  If I do this I drink coffee with coconut oil or grass-fed butter. Have you heard of Bulletproof coffee? It's very similar.

2. No grains at breakfast.  If I eat breakfast it is usually scrambled eggs with spinach and avocado, and maybe some sausage. Sometimes I'll drink a green drink in the morning as well.

3. No grains at lunch. I'm not perfect with this, but I try. It's easiest the days I work and I can control what I pack to eat at lunch time.

4. I do have some grains or complex carbs at dinner. Not always but I allow myself to eat it if I want it.  Lately I have been roasting big batches of veggies - carrots, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, zucchini, onion, sweet potatoes, asparagus, butternut squash, broccoli, cauliflower. You name it and I have roasted it some time in the last month. All I do is toss it with oil and salt and pepper, put it in a 400 degree oven, and check on it. Some veggies take longer than others, but it's pretty much done when it has browned a bit and you can easily stick a knife in it.   I've also been making salads to go with dinner.  So a typical dinner lately is roasted chicken, roasted veggies, and salad.

5. I drink kombucha daily. I make it myself and it is so easy, so delicious and incredibly good for you.  It's important to eat fermented foods on a regular basis, and I'm planning to make kimchi.

I hope to bring you more tips and recipes very soon! I would love to hear from you if you also have given up grains or if you have totally gone Paleo.

Have a great day!