SALAD IN A JAR: LAYERED SPINACH AND STRAWBERRY SALAD WITH POPPYSEED DRESSING

This is one of my all-time favorite party recipes...  Serving guests a salad in a Jar is so easy, so versatile and it can be used for so many different occasions. In fact, it is also perfect for lunch on the go or for the kids. Layer your favorite ingredients in a jar and chill. When you are ready to serve, simply shake it up. That's it!

If you are going to prep the day before your event, you probably should add the dressing just before serving so everything doesn't get soggy and just put it right on top. But you can prep up to four hours before with the dressing in the bottom and you'll be fine... but keep the jars chilled on ice, in the fridge, or in a cooler. And it is a perfect solution for picnics, too!

So pretty, so functional and so delicious! Layered salad in a jar makes serving and eating salad at a party so much easier! No grappling with tongs or trying to balance everything to add dressing.

So pretty, so functional and so delicious! Layered salad in a jar makes serving and eating salad at a party so much easier! No grappling with tongs or trying to balance everything to add dressing.

LAYERED SPINACH AND STRAWBERRY SALAD IN A JAR WITH HOMEMADE POPPYSEED DRESSING

Makes 6

INGREDIENTS

1- 9 ounce package of fresh baby spinach leaves, wash and remove the stems

1- 16 ounce container fresh strawberries, washed, dried, hulled, and sliced

1- 15 ounce can Mandarin orange slices, drained

2 cups walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped

1- 6 ounce container Belle Chevre Belle and the Bee Breakfast goat cheese (or if you cannot find it, make your own by swirling honey into goat cheese to make it creamy and slightly sweet)

Poppyseed Dressing recipe  (or your favorite dressing

DIRECTIONS:

Start by spooning about 2-3 tablespoons of dressing into the bottom of the jar. Use enough so you can see the layer of dressing. Next, add about 1 1/2 cups of the spinach leaves. Layer the strawberry slices around the outside of the jar and work your way in so they look pretty. Do the same with the orange slices. Next, add the walnuts and top with a thin layer of the goat cheese. You want to be able to see each layer- the colorful layers is what is so pretty about this salad. Secure the lid and chill until serving time.


HOMEMADE POPPYSEED DRESSING

One of my summer favorites, this is also a delicious dip or dressing for fresh fruit.

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1/2 teaspoon honey

1/4 teaspoon lemon juice

1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon sugar

1/8 cup sweet white onion, like a Vidalia, chopped

1/2 cup plain yogurt (some people prefer mayo instead)

2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3/4 teaspoon poppyseeds

a bit of water to thin, if desired

DIRECTIONS:

Add everything but the oil and the poppyseeds into a blender or food processor and blend until very smooth and there is no trace of the onion. Reduce to the lowest speed and stream in the vegetable oil. Turn off the blender and add the poppyseeds. If you find it too thick (which I love for fruit) you can thin with a bit of water for salad dressing.  I use an immersion blender for this recipe. It's fast and easy to clean up.

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RECIPE: PARMESAN CHEESE SKILLET SPAGHETTI CAKE

If you're like me, you always make too much pasta and have a ton left over. Here's a way to use it! My Parmesan Cheese Skillet Spaghetti Cake uses pantry or fridge items you simply bake in a cast iron skillet. It's pretty fantastic. In fact, you can throw just about anything you want in there... leftover roasted veggies, a bit of sausage or even leftover short ribs. This easy recipe is great for an impromptu party or for  dinner, as a side dish or anytime you have leftover pasta. Add some marinara on the side. You’ll love it!

PARMESAN CHEESE SKILLET SPAGHETTI CAKE

Prep Time: 10 minutes    Cook time: 15 minutes

INGREDIENTS

1/2 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon olive oil

1 clove garlic, smashed

12 ounces angel hair pasta, cooked and drained

2 eggs

1 ½ cups Parmesan cheese, grated, plus 1/4 cup more for serving

1 teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

 

DIRECTIONS: 

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain. Toss with ½ teaspoon olive oil. Set aside.

Put the eggs in a large bowl and whisk them well. Whisk in the salt, pepper and the garlic. Add the pasta and the cheese. Toss to coat evenly.

Put 1 tablespoon olive oil in a cast iron or oven-proof skillet over medium high heat. When it gets hot, add the smashed garlic clove and let it cook 1-2 minutes but don’t let it burn. Remove from heat. Use the back of a knife to turn the garlic clove into a paste. Mix it into the pasta.

Turn the heat down to medium. Carefully spin the hot skillet to distribute the olive oil. Pour the pasta mixture into the hot pan. Let it cook 3-4 minutes or until well-browned. Use a large spatula or two small ones to flip the cake and brown the other side; about 4 minutes more. The cake is done when the eggs are set and the cheese is melted.

If you prefer not to flip the cake, no problem. You can finish it in the oven. Before you start, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Once you've cooked the cake on the stove to brown the bottom, move the pan into the oven and cook for 10 minutes more or until the top is golden brown and the eggs are completely set. (Make sure to use an oven safe pan like a cast iron skillet)

To serve, run a knife around the edges to loosen the cake and turn it out on a heat-proof platter or wooden cutting board. Sprinkle with more freshly grated Parmesan and some finely chopped Italian parsley.

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RECIPE: ARANCINI (ITALIAN RICE BALLS) WITH HOMEMADE MARINARA SAUCE

I have to tell the story of this recipe. During taping for Food Network Star, my cast mate, Michele Ragussis made her mom's Arancini for us one night and let me help her make it. A few days later when my team had to create a food court restaurant with an Italian theme, I asked Michele if it was okay if I made it for the competition but with my own twist. Yes, she gave me her blessing but choked back a laugh since I'd only watched it made once and had never actually made it myself. It came out pretty well, I guess. We won. And I even got a marriage proposal on set from an Italian guy in the audience who told me these arancini and the marinara I made to accompany it was better than his Italian mother's. That made me pretty proud. Thank you, Michele and Mama Phyllis, for sharing your family tradition with me.

Arancini is the perfect party dish. If  you use ground beef, it is very inexpensive to make for a crowd and you can easily double the recipe. I make them early in the day and just drop them into the fryer right before serving. You can even make them in advance and freeze them- just thaw and fry just before guests arrive. These are cheesy and delicious. Try them and let me know how you do.

ITALIAN RICE BALLS --ARANCINI WITH SPICY MARINARA

INGREDIENTS

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, diced small

5cloves garlic, minced

1 pound ground beef

1 pound ground veal (optional- you can sub ground beef or pork)

1 cup Italian flat leaf parsley minced

2 tablespoons fresh thyme, minced

1 tablespoon dried oregano

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 ½ cups tomato sauce

2 cups grated Parmesan cheese grated

2 cups cooked and cooled Arborio rice

5 eggs

3 cups breadcrumbs with Italian seasoning (I make my own but store brands are good)

Canola oil for frying

3 tablespoons minced fresh basil

Marinara Sauce (see recipe below or use store-bought)

Special equipment: #10 (small-medium) ice cream scoop

DIRECTIONS:

Cook the rice according to package directions but you want the rice to be sticky so I cook a bit longer than I should and don't add butter or olive oil to the water. You don't want it to be mushy. Set aside.  

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and sauté onions and garlic for 2 minutes until softened. Add meat and cook until browned, breaking up large pieces as it cooks. Strain off excess fat from the pan. Add parsley and cook 3 minutes. Add thyme, oregano, and pepper, and salt, cayenne, red pepper flakes. Taste and add more seasoning if needed.

Keep in mind that rice and cheese contain salt so be careful not to over salt the meat mixture. Let the meat mixture cool a bit. Add the tomato sauce. Combine rice with cheese but be careful not to mash the rice. Add the rice mixture to meat mixture and stir gently to combine. Check the seasoning. Add additional salt and pepper if necessary.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Use ice cream scoop to shape the balls so they are a consistent size, then hand roll the balls as tightly as you can.

Pour enough canola oil into a deep skillet or Dutch oven to reach 5”. Heat oil over medium heat to 350-degrees. Use a thermometer to check the oil temperature.

Whisk eggs in a small baking dish. Place breadcrumbs in another baking dish. Roll rice balls lightly in the eggs then immediately roll in breadcrumbs to form a coating. Shake off the excess breadcrumbs. Place them on the baking sheet and refrigerate or freeze until you are ready to fry.

To fry:

Carefully drop rice balls into the hot oil a few at a time, taking care not to overcrowd and lower the oil temperature. Cook until golden brown, about 2-4 minutes per batch. Bring oil back up to 350-degrees before cooking each batch. Drain rice balls on paper towels before serving.

Serve with homemade or store-bought marinara for dipping. Garnish with the basil leaves.


SPICY MARINARA SAUCE

INGREDIENTS

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

3 large cans (28 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes, including liquid

1 cup fresh whole basil leaves, loosely packed

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (about 1/2 tablespoon dried)

1/2  cup fresh whole oregano leaves, loosely packed (about 1 tablespoon dried)

2 teaspoons kosher salt

big pinch granulated sugar (optional)

½ teaspoon black pepper

pinch cayenne pepper

splash Balsamic vinegar

DIRECTIONS:

Heat olive oil in the bottom of a large pot. Add onion and cook for 5 minutes until translucent and softened. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Use some of the liquid from the tomatoes to deglaze the pan, and then add the remaining ingredients. Use an immersion blender to puree, taking care to leave the tomatoes slightly chunky. (If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can add everything to a blender or food processor)

Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently to keep from burning on the bottom. Reduce heat to low and cook for 1 hour or longer so that the marinara thickens as some of the liquid cooks out. Check seasoning prior to serving. Add salt or a pinch more sugar as necessary.

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