Summer Pasta Salad

Summer is the best time of year for all things salads! You can easily get overwhelmed with all the salad potential that comes with the summer harvest — so many vegetable combinations, so little time. And if you aren’t expanding past your sad salads of the same lettuce, a few standard vegetables, and sensible dressing, you are truly missing out.

Salads can be so much more than toppings on a bed of lettuce. Summer is the perfect time to keep a different one in the refrigerator each week to enjoy. This pasta summer salad can be a meal in itself or a light side to other summer favorites: backyard grilled meats, fresh fish or seafood.

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Don’t take these ingredients as the gospel, feel free to substitute your favorites, add more, take away, or whatever makes you happy. If you don’t like bowtie pasta, choose a different type. Stick with chickpeas (in my opinion) as they hold up to the dressing and store in the refrigerator without getting soggy. Plus, they add a boost of protein if you decide to eat this alone.

In this go-round, I used bell pepper, cucumber, cherry tomatoes.

The rest of the ingredients shown are for the dressing — an avocado, lemon, garlic, basil, and dijon mustard, with salt and pepper.

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Pro tip: seed your cucumber to help keep your salad from getting soggy. You don’t have to take this extra step, but you will notice a quality difference after a day or so in the refrigerator. The cucumber seeds quickly spoon out.

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  • You’ll want about 2-3 cups of cooked pasta.

  • Cook and drain pasta.

  • Drain and rinse your can of chickpeas.

  • Chop your vegetables.

  • Add them all to a big bowl and salt and pepper to taste.

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In a food processor, prepare the dressing.

  • Add in a 1/2 cup of chopped, fresh basil.

  • *A fresh avocado (peeled).

  • The juice of a lemon.

  • A tablespoon of minced garlic (or 2 fresh cloves).

  • A generous tablespoon of Dijon mustard.

  • Process till smooth.

  • Then add up to 1/4 cup water and process again.

*My avocado was not ripe enough and I ended up wasting a lot while peeling it. Since the avocado provides the creaminess, you desire in dressing. I added one teaspoon of olive oil. If you can’t find a fresh and ripe avocado, forgo it and look in your grocery for the prepared guacamole (It is already super smooth) and sub about 1/2 cup or one of the small guacamole containers.

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Combine the dressing and the vegetables whit he pasta and chickpeas.

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Yo! That is one pretty salad! It is light, yet filling. It is full of protein and fiber. It will be a big hit at your cookouts, and with your family. Seal it tight and it will last several days in your refrigerator. Best served chilled.

Rebecca Turner
Easy Pesto Vegetable Sauté

You may have tried the simple sauté for vegetables (and if you haven’t, you should), and wonder why am I sharing another one. Well, I found an even easier way to make vegetables taste good! Thanks to a friendly co-worker for sharing her kitchen tip with me: store-bought pesto!

Utilize this vegetable recipe to pair with various healthy foods and to create all kinds of flavorful meals. You can make it a meatless meal by serving them over pasta packed with plant-based protein. I’m a big fan of the protein plus pasta put out by Barilla. The pesto shown is what I had in the refrigerator at the time. Feel free to sub with any flavor of store-bought pesto. If you’re a big diva in the kitchen, you can make homemade pesto. Not happening here.

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There is no magic combination of vegetables to use in this recipe. I cleaned out the refrigerator and had a zucchini, onion, bell pepper, and cherry tomatoes hanging out. Slice up whichever vegetables crank your engine. Cut them up and then add in a generous amount of pesto. How much? Don’t know. Depends on how many vegetables you have. As long as your veggies are “well covered” in pesto, you are good to go.

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Heat a pan to medium heat, and spray it with non-stick spray. Add your vegetables and cook till tender. If you feel the vegetables need some moisture, avoid oil or more spray, use white wine vinegar, cooking wine, or just plain water. It will help soften the vegetables and keep them from sticking.

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As mentioned, you can pair these with an endless number of things. I paired it with the protein noodles and chicken. I’m pregnant and hungry, don’t judge me. The plate below rates right - protein from the chicken (bonus with the noodles), a whole grain carb with the noodles, plenty of vegetables, and a healthy fat found in the pesto.

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Rebecca Turner
Pressure Cooked Pulled Pork

Pulled pork is one of those foods that can be the foundation of many meals the entire family will enjoy. You can make sandwiches, wraps, salads, or even a loaded pork potato. The cooking method of pulled pork can also vary from on the grill, to in the oven, slow cooker, or pressure cook it. And when it comes to how to season your pulled pork, you probably change it up every time or from time-to-time. And that’s the beauty of a staple. You can play and try new things.

I tried a pork shoulder roast (a.k.a Boston butt) pressure cooked in our Ninja Foodie for the first time. Again, not an ad, but the best birthday gift I’ve gotten in a while. Hands down, the juiciest, and most tender pulled pork that I have ever made at home. Best part? It only took an hour to cook a 4lb pork roast!

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Start with your preferred pork roast. I used a 3-4lb pork shoulder roast and allowed it to come to room temperature before seasoning it. For a no-fuss flavor packet, try the McCormick Slow Cooker BBQ Pulled Pork packet. Again, not an advertisement of any kind. The rest of the ingredients come straight from the back of the package. You’ll need ketchup, cider vinegar, and brown sugar. But, wait, Rebecca… that is not brown sugar! Glad you spotted that.

Brown sugar is one of those pantry staples you take for granted that you have at home until you run out. That is what appears to have happened to me. Just when I needed it, there was none to be found. So I improvised and used Truvia Baking Sugar. It is a sugar substitute made from stevia, and it was in my cabinet. Turns out, if I make this again it will be with the Truvia and not brown sugar. I can’t claim that it did anything magical with the taste; all I know is it tastes fantastic and is tender. The bonus is there was less sugar overall, however, let me be clear, that was not my intention, and it wouldn’t make that big of an impact since most of the seasoning cooks off and ends up discarded. It helps flavor and tenderizes.

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As mentioned, I allowed my pork roast to come to room temperature before messing with it. It makes a difference in keeping the meat tender and well seasoned. Whisk all the seasoning ingredients in a bowl. For a pressure cooker, you will need to trim all the visible fat off your pork roast and then cut it into 6-8 even chunks. Then bath it in the seasoning.

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The longer you can allow it to marinate the better. If you leave it overnight in the refrigerator, still allow the pork roast to come to room temperature before putting it in the pressure cooker. Prepare your pressure cooker with a cup of water and rack on the lowest rung.

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Add in your pork roast pieces trying not to overlap them if possible. Set your pressure cooker on high and for 60 minutes. All the pressure to naturally release (meaning don’t touch the button) for 10 minutes before releasing the rest of the pressure.

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Look how pretty! Remove pork roast and in a medium to large bowl take two forks and get to shredding or pulling the pork apart. If it turns out as ours did, the son-of-a-gun falls apart on you!!!

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I prefer to leave my pulled pork dry and allow individuals to add their amount of BBQ sauce. If you prefer to go ahead and get it sauced up, then now would be the time. Pulled pork is a versatile protein to have in the refrigerator for the week. You can use it as a sandwich, wraps, on salads, or my new found way to eat it: pulled pork potato!

To complete this meal, I topped a baked potato with low-fat sour cream, pork, and paired it with green beans. You can have fun with the sides, go traditional with coleslaw or get creative. Let me know if you try it!

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Rebecca Turner