Spring Strawberry Salad with Orange Champagne Vinaigrette

 strawberry feta salad individual portion

Easter is coming guys. If you're anything like me, you wait until the last minute to figure out what your contribution to the big family brunch will be. If this is the case, I have the easiest fresh and seasonal salad that will definitely go over well with any crowd. It has everything a spring salad should - fresh leafy greens, seasonal fruit, salty feta, toasted almonds and a homemade dressing that leaves people asking - what was in that? I'm all about contrast with my salads and this one covers all the bases. 

 strawberry feta spring salad in salad bowl

As a side note: somehow I developed a reputation as the resident salad-contributor to a lot of social events. Not even because I'm a dietitian but because I like coming up with different combinations! Most people think the salad is the boring part of the meal but I like to think of it as the perfect compliment. Vegetables should never be obligatory and with a salad this good, the greens can absolutely be a favorite side. Anyone else agree? 

 strawberry feta salad with easter linen

With this one I started with the traditional components of an Easter salad but made it just slightly more gourmet with toasted nuts and a dressing that really pops. Both of these are insanely easy, so you can impress without learning any complicated new techniques or having to search for out-of-the-box ingredients. And while you can certainly add the almonds without toasting, PLEASE just do me a favor and do not skip this step. It takes just a few extra minutes and seriously amplifies the flavor. Similarly, adding fresh-squeezed orange juice isn't totally necessary, but it is a special occasion so I say just go for it. 

 spring strawberry salad with orange champagne vinaigrette
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Spring Strawberry Salad with Orange Champagne Vinaigrette
The perfect side dish for Easter dinner (or any spring occasion).
  • 12 oz spring mix
  • 16 oz strawberries, halved
  • 4 oz feta cheese
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/4 cup champagne vinegar
  • 1 medium orange (I like Cara Cara)
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • to taste salt and pepper
1. Heat a small nonstick skillet over medium heat; add almonds and stir frequently toasting until fragrant and browned (watching carefully not to burn). Transfer to a plate and cool completely in a single layer. 2. Make the dressing: add vinegar, orange juice and honey to a 16 oz jar and mix with a fork until well combined. Then add olive oil, screw the lid on and shake vigorously. Season with salt and pepper to taste.3. Add greens to a large salad bowl along with the chopped strawberries, feta cheese crumbles and toasted almonds. Add dressing per preference (you likely won't need it all) and toss well. Serve immediately. Store any remaining dressing in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 8

20-Minute Shiitake Mushroom Ramen (& how to make that perfect egg)

 shortcut healthy ramen noodles

If I were to list out all the words that describe my mission over here (plant-powered, convenient, practical, approachable), I would say this recipe epitomizes all of those things. Today we are making ramen in just 20 minutes! 

I'm not sure if it's like this everywhere but ramen has become uber popular in Denver over the last few years. There are more and more super delicious restaurants popping up (like Uncle and Ototo, and more recently Izakaya Ronin which I still haven't made it to quite yet although I'm dying to go). I have to admit I was a little skeptical of these places at first because I always associated ramen with the cup o' noodles from college. 

But wow, authentic ramen is so very different. The broth is typically simmered for hours until it develops this rich and complex flavor, then combined with those chewy ridged noodles and any additional flavors toppings that your heart desires. In general most of the versions I have tried keep things simple with some miso, maybe a bit of pork belly, some thinly sliced green onions and that perfectly jammy egg. 

THAT EGG though. Let's talk more about that. No matter what combination you choose, I feel like the 6-minute egg is a must-have in this situation. Thanks to Bon Appetit, I was able to successfully make one here and it was actually really easy.

Now I'm going to be real with you, in typical fashion, I wanted to come up with a shortcut version so you could enjoy this without spending hours in the kitchen. This is by no means an authentic recipe. I actually stole (borrowed?) this idea from my husband who took an instant pack of noodles and doctored it up with everything we had in the fridge that seemed to make sense. How brilliant husbands are sometimes. The result is this happy medium between the restaurant-quality stuff and the boring noodles from your dorm room. 

 kimchi shiitake mushroom ramen ingredients

I know what some of you might be thinking - instant ramen, really? But I was pleasantly surprised to find that the available options are much improved and most actually have a really basic ingredients list. I also added some special ingredients to make it feel a little bit gourmet, like shiitake mushrooms, kimchi, and cilantro. This brand of noodle pictured above is the one I tried and the flavor is really nice. There are a few different varieties available, but I went with the mushroom and here's what the ingredients list looks like: 

Noodles | organic heirloom wheat flour, sea salt

Broth packet | Shoyu powder, miso powder, kombu powder, shiitake mushroom powder, shiitake mushrooms, onion powder, sea salt, green onion, garlic powder, ginger powder, black pepper

I can get down with all of that! I initially tried to make my own broth too but it was hard to replicate that rich flavor in so little time, so instead I ended up enhancing the packet instead, which worked like a charm. I used one of the packets for two portions of noodles to cut down on the extra saltiness a bit. You can always add more later if you want!

In case you were wondering, kimchi is fermented and seasoned cabbage/vegetables, a staple in Korean cuisine, and you can find it in most grocery stores now so don't let it intimidate you. You will be amazed at how often you make a dish that needs a little something extra and kimchi works like a charm to fill that void. Just make sure to check the spice level first because the hot ones are no joke for the non-spicy loving people out there. 

 pot of ramen noodles with shiitake mushrooms 

This is a quick and simple version of the classic comfort food. Perfect for a cold, rainy Spring day or the ultimate sick-day meal. Customize it based on your own taste preferences and let me know what you came up with by tagging me on Instagram at @LeanneRayRDN and using the hashtag #SpiceUpYourCookingGame!

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20-Minute Shiitake Mushroom Ramen
A quick and simple version of the classic comfort food.
  • 1-2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
  • 5 oz package shiitake mushrooms
  • 2, 2 oz packages ramen noodles
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup kimchi
  • 2 Tbsp cilantro, minced
  • optional: 1 Tbsp sriracha
1. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil over medium-high heat (see step 3 to finish making eggs).2. Meanwhile, heat a large stock pot over medium low heat and swirl olive oil once around the bottom. Saute garlic and ginger for about 1 minute (watch closely so this doesn't burn). Add shiitake mushrooms and cook for another 2-3 minutes until mushrooms start to break down a bit. Add contents of one soup packet from the ramen noodles (save the other one for later use) and stir to combine. Add 3 cups of water, stir and turn heat up to high until it starts to boil. Add both packages of noodles. Cook for 4 minutes stirring occasionally to break apart. Remove from heat, stir in green onions (reserving about 1 Tbsp for garnish).3. Once the separate saucepan of water comes to a boil, add eggs one at a time. Cook 6½ minutes. Transfer eggs to a bowl of ice water and chill until just slightly warm, then gently crack eggs all over and peel. Carefully slice in half lengthwise.4. Use tongs to portion noodles into two bowls, then ladle broth on top in desired amount. Top with kimchi, cilantro, two egg halves and any additional green onions. Optional: top with Sriracha or other hot chili sauce for extra kick.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 2-3 servings

Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie

 vegetarian shepherds pie

Well it's about time we do that St. Patrick's Day thing and get festive around here - don't you think? In brainstorming a few ideas, this is the one I kept coming back to because it's something I would totally make any time of year and love.

I mean really, what's not to like about about a rich layer of mushrooms and vegetables covered by parmesan mashed potatoes and broiled until crispy on top? This my be my new favorite comfort food. 

 shepherds pie ingredients 

Traditional Shepherd's Pie calls for lamb, and while I really like the flavor of lamb it can be pricey and a little bit more labor intensive than the route I took. When it came to finding a viable replacement, I went with mushrooms for the texture (and because I pretty much love them in everything). I came across a bagged frozen blend of white, shiitake and portobello which worked really well and added great flavor. You can use any type you like though. 

The first thing you'll want to do is get the potatoes boiling because it takes a while. Russets work the best for mashed potatoes because of the high starch content, so just peel, chop and throw them in a large stock pot. Cover with water, season with a pinch or two of salt and turn the heat on high to bring the water to a boil. In the mean time you can get going with your vegetables (which is the best part, but then again I may be biased). 

To jazz things up, I used tri-color carrots because they add the most beautiful pop of color. You'll also need the usual suspects: onion, celery and garlic.

 shepherds pie vegetable layer

Now making something sans meat or meat-based broth usually means you need to get a little creative to replace that rich flavor. I used a brown ale as a deglazing liquid and it worked really well. This can totally be swapped with your favorite darker beer, or if you don't drink or have any on hand, feel free to use broth instead.

Once all of your separate components are complete, assembly is super easy and it only cooks in the oven for five minutes. The result is delicious and silky and all those good things. 

Veggies on the bottom, potatoes on the top.

 plated shepherds pie

I hope you get "lucky" with all of your cooking endeavors this week. Enjoy!

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Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie
All of the same great taste sans the meat.
  • 3 medium russet potatoes, peeled & chopped
  • 1/2 cup half & half
  • 2 Tbsp butter (divided)
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1-2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 3 large carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup dark beer (or veggie broth)
  • 10 oz mushroom blend, sliced
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • to taste salt and pepper
1. Place potatoes in a large stock pot, cover with water and season with salt. Turn heat on high and bring to a boil. Cook 15 minutes or until potatoes are easily pierced with a fork (finish mashed potatoes in step 3). 2. Heat olive oil in a large metal skillet over medium heat. Add onion, carrots and celery, cook 2-3 minutes, then add garlic and cook for 5 more minutes until slightly browned. Deglaze the pan with 1 cup of beer scraping the browned bits from the bottom with a metal spoon while stirring. Increase heat and bring to a low simmer. 3. Drain potatoes and transfer to a large bowl (or stand-up mixer bowl). Add half & half, 1 Tbsp of the butter and 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese. Mash or mix well. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. 4. In a small skillet, heat the other tablespoon of butter and add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook until about half their original size (5-6 minutes) stirring frequently. 5. Add the mushrooms, peas and 1 cup of vegetable broth to the carrot mixture, increase heat and return to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for a few more minutes until everything is well combined and flavors have developed to your liking. 6. Transfer the vegetable mixture to an an oven-safe casserole dish, then top with mashed potatoes and spread them out with a spatula until even. Sprinkle the rest of the parmesan on top, plus a bit more salt and pepper. Broil for 5 minutes or until browned.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 4

recipe adapted from: The Food Network