Apple Vinaigrette

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As many of you know, I’m the executive chef for a liberal arts university here in Alabama, and we do a fare share of catered events each year, so I have a lot of “trade tricks” that make my life easier on a daily basis when I’m balancing a full day of meals for our students (about 1500 covers a day) and a few catered events tossed into the mix. At the university, our signature salad has become a mixture of spring mix lettuces with fresh fruit (usually fresh segmented oranges and strawberries) some toasted pecans, a sprinkle of bleu cheese crumbles and apple vinaigrette. Lately I’ve been getting a lot of requests to share the recipe for apple vinaigrette and while I’ve always been the type to gladly share all of my recipes with my customers, deciding to share this one took some thought. Not because it’s some special recipe of secret ingredients, but because it’s NOT some special recipe! It’s just something I whipped up in the food processor one day and now it is the most requested dressing for salads. It’s so simple, I’m ashamed to put it in print, but it’s quite tasty so give it a try. You won’t be disappointed by the flavor, or the ease in putting it together.

  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 can (soup can size) natural applesauce
  • 1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • 3/4 cup olive oil

Toss the garlic into a food processor and run until almost a paste. Add the applesauce, salt and pepper and pulse to combine. With the motor running, add the vinegar, then add the olive oil in a thin stream through the top. Once all the oil is added, let the machine run for another full minute. Pour into a bottle and store in the fridge, using as needed.

This vinaigrette will have a thick consistency, but it’s great tossed into salad greens, and it will keep for a week under refrigeration.

Bloody Mary Tomato Salad with Pickled Shrimp

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The heirloom tomatoes are coming in at Pepper Place and I’m a huge fan. We buy them every chance we can get. Personally, I can eat them like an apple, but this recipe is the perfect marriage of those tomatoes with some fresh Gulf shrimp!

  • 3# assorted tomatoes, sliced (heirlooms are best, such as Cherokee Purple, Beefsteak, Brandywine, etc but any good southern ripe tomato will do)
  • 1/3 cup celery sliced thin on the bias (diagonal)
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed celery leaves (celery leaves are great for seasoning dishes and for garnishes, so don’t automatically toss them like many people do

Using a chilled serving platter, arrange the sliced tomatoes and celery. Sprinkle with cracked black pepper and sea salt to taste. Drizzle with the Bloody Mary Vinaigrette (recipe below) and spoon the pickled shrimp over the top (also below). Top with the celery leaves and garnish with pickled okra or pickled green beans. You can even add some crumbled Feta if you’d like!

For the vinaigrette:

  • 1/2 cup spicy Bloody Mary mix (like Zing Zang)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp prepared horseradish
  • 1 tsp finely ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp hot sauce
  • 3/4 tsp celery salt
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Combine ingredients in a bottle with a lid, shake and chill.

To make pickled shrimp:

In a zip top freezer bag (gallon size), add 1 pound of medium-sized peeled fresh shrimp. To the bag, add the following ingredients, then place the bag in your refrigerator for at least 2 hours but the longer you leave it in, the better. After 6 hours the shrimp will get rubbery, so 2-6 hours is the processing time.

  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp each chopped fresh dill and flat leaf parsley
  • 1 1/4 tsp Creole seasoning (I use Old Bay)
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced

Creole Coleslaw

creolecoleslaw

I was never a fan of coleslaw growing up, mainly because my grandmother didn’t make it and my Dad thought Captain D’s had good slaw. Sugar and mayonnaise mixed with murdered cabbage never appealed to me. It wasn’t until later in life when I had to cook for others that I grew to appreciate coleslaw, then and after I created my own version.

I have a lot of Louisiana influences in my cooking because part of my family is from New Orleans. Those flavors have always appealed to me and I use them quite often in a lot of dishes I prepare. At work we serve fish on Fridays and most people expect coleslaw with their fish, so I developed this recipe many years ago and it has become a “most requested” from my customers. Now they are begging for the recipe, so here it is.

If you’ve only eaten everyday coleslaw, give this recipe a try. It’s tart, not sweet, with just a hint of spice making it a perfect side dish for fish or BBQ.

  • 1 head of cabbage rough chopped (I prefer it chunky, not shredded like store-bought coleslaw)
  • 1 bell pepper, minced
  • 2 tbsp dill relish
  • 1 large tomato chopped
  • 2 tbsp Creole mustard
  • 1 cup mayonnaise (I use Kraft, if you’re used to eating mine at work)
  • 2 dashes Tabasco or Texas Pete’s hot sauce
  • 1 tbsp Cajun seasoning
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp celery seed
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, mustard, hot sauce, vinegar, sugar, celery seed and cajun seasoning. To the wet ingredients, add the cabbage, bell pepper, tomato and dill relish. Toss well to combine. Refrigerate until ready to enjoy.

Southwestern Style Tuna Salad

Mom agreed to host a neighborhood Christmas party the day before 40+ people are scheduled to arrive at her house on Christmas Eve for our annual family dinner. She called me for suggestions on finger foods; she’s already making my “fancy” chicken salad with apples and dried cranberries and I offered to whip up a batch of jalapeno-pimiento cheese and Southwestern style tuna salad.

We make this tuna salad every day at work, along with regular tuna, regular chicken, fancy chicken and cajun chicken salads. This has turned into one of my customer’s favorites and it’s my favorite way to make tuna salad for sure! Don’t let the name, or the ingredients fool you. This is not a super-spicy salad. The addition of honey and the dairy in the Ranch cuts the heat, so you’ll just have a zesty after taste. Give it a shot the next time you’re looking for something different than a plain old tuna fish sandwich!

tuna

 

  • 2 6oz cans quality tuna packed in water, drained and flaked
  • 2 T pickle relish (we use sweet at work, I use dill at home, so it’s a matter of preference only)
  • 4 pickled banana pepper rings, minced (you can get these in jars on the pickle aisle)
  • 1 small fresh jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced (don’t touch yourself after seeding the pepper without first washing your hands!!!)
  • 2 boiled eggs, diced
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/3 cup + 1 T buttermilk ranch dressing (it’s best to use Hidden Valley made from a packet, but any will do)
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce (I normally use Texas Pete’s at work and Tabasco at home)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together. Taste and season to your liking. If it’s too hot for you, add a little sugar. Chill well before serving. Great on sandwiches, wraps or just to scoop and eat on a bed of lettuce.

Heirloom Tomato & Grilled Corn Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

Here’s a great recipe using some of the fresh vegetables available these days! Nothing like the taste of roasted corn and fresh heirloom tomatoes to scream SUMMER!

  • 3 tbsp champagne vinegar or white-wine vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 4 ears of fresh corn in husks
  • 1 1/4 pounds assorted heirloom tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1 10oz container of small heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered

In a glass mixing boil, whisk together the vinegar and garlic. Add the oil in a thin stream, whisking constantly to incorporate, then add the basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Fill a large bowl with water. Mix in 1 tsp sea salt. Add the corn and soak for 1 hour.

Prepare your barbecue or gas grill (medium-high heat). Drain the corn. Grill the corn in the husks until the outside is very charred and the corn kernels are tender, turning occasionally, about 25 minutes.

Cool the corn. Remove the husks and cut the kernels off the cobs into a large bowl. Add the tomatoes. Toss with enough vinaigrette to coat. Season with salt and pepper.

Pistachio Ambrosia Salad

Down south, congealed fruit salads are a big thing. Every church social, potluck or holiday meal includes a version of this tasty treat. Each family has their own recipe and each recipe has its own name, but they are all similar and usually contain the following or variations: pudding, Jello, fruit, nuts, KoolWhip, etc. Some have cream cheese, some don’t. In my family, my sister-in-law makes a version she calls “FLUFF”.

The recipe I use came from the “Ask Heloise” section of the newspaper. It’s tasty, sinful and especially refreshing on a hot summer’s afternoon. Considering the high in Birmingham was 106F today, I needed something refreshing, so I whipped up a bowl of this wonderful salad, and thought I’d share this “tried and true” recipe with you.

  • 1 can crushed pineapple in juice
  • 1 can chunk pineapple in juice, or substitute with 1 chopped fresh, really ripe pineapple (I usually have a pineapple around the house, because it’s my favorite fruit, so that’s what I used)
  • 1 cup nuts (I used pecans)
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 1 cup mini marshmallows
  • 1 small box instant pistachio pudding
  • 16oz soft KoolWhip

If using a fresh pineapple, here’s a secret test to see how ripe your fruit is. Try pulling out one of the green leaves atop the pineapple. A pineapple at the perfect stage of ripeness will give up a leaf with little pressure. It should also be a yellow color on the outside and not green between the scales.

In a medium bowl, add the crushed pineapple and chunks with their juice. Sprinkle the pistachio pudding over the pineapple, stir and let it sit for a minute or two. Next add the nuts, coconut and marshmallows and combine. Fold in the softened KoolWhip.

Refrigerate, covered, for at least an hour before serving. How easy is that??? 🙂

Corn & Zucchini Salad

Summer is finally here and for us, that means a lot of time spent at the lake where we dine al fresco on the pier with friends. My normal contribution to the meal is a composed salad of some sort, be it pasta salad, potato salad (check out Bacon Parmesan Potato Salad in the blog archives, redneck caviar (Hoppin’ John Salad in the archives) or homemade salsa. I haven’t made corn and zucchini salad in a couple of summers but now that fresh corn is cheap and plentiful, it will be on a future menu at the lake.

This recipe can be made with raw corn, like many corn salad recipes are, but I like the corn a little more tender and a little less starchy. That’s why I blanch the corn. Canned corn is over-cooked, and while it will work if you need a quick salad for a last minute party, it won’t be as fresh tasting. You can also used grilled corn for a smokier flavored salad (perfect with BBQ), and you can change the whole flavor profile from southwestern to Italian simply by using fresh chopped basil instead of fresh chopped cilantro!

  • 5 ears of fresh corn, shucked
  • 2 cups zucchini chopped into a small dice or quartered lengthwise and then sliced thin
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt or Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup finely diced red onion
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro (for southwestern style) or chopped basil leaves (for Italian style)
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 1/4 tsp minced garlic (or 1 clove)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil on the stovetop and cook the corn for 3-5 minutes. Remove from the heat, drain and then immerse the corn into ice cold water to stop the cooking process. Once the corn has cooled enough to handle, cut the kernels from the cob into a large bowl.

Add to the corn, the remaining ingredients. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. The longer it marinates in the refrigerator, the better it will taste, so you can make it an hour before eating, or make it the day before.

 

Fancy Chicken Salad

I grew up eating chicken salad. Not “Fancy” chicken salad, just good old chicken salad made with chicken, celery, egg, dill pickles and mayo and to this day, that’s the way I prefer mine. Over the years, I’ve made different versions of chicken salad for my customers and all have been a hit, but nothing like the response I get from this version of fruity chicken salad that I began calling “Fancy” chicken salad on our menu at work.

I owned a catering business in Birmingham and this was a most requested recipe. At the Birmingham News, I’d make Fancy Chicken Salad, usually at least 20 pounds, and be sold out within 45 minutes of opening our doors for lunch. Customers would order it by the pound to pick up on Fridays and take home for the weekend. They liked the recipe so much, it was published in The News’ food section once. After leaving The News, I’ve worked in several corporate accounts (that’s what I am, a corporate chef) and at every account, customers line up for this recipe. I can never make enough; it sells out long before lunch ends. Every time my company moves me to a new account, the customers at the old one email talking about “missing my chicken salad”. So I’m posted this recipe for all my faithful customers, friends and readers. Like every recipe I prepare at work, this one is easy. Once you’ve chopped up the ingredients, that’s it. There is no “special ingredient”, nothing out of the ordinary that I do. The only 4 things I can say that make my recipe different from other’s chicken salad are these:

  1. Never put the chicken in a food processor, instead, tear it with your hands. We aren’t making cat food so it should resemble something from a can, which leads to the second note.
  2. Don’t use canned chicken. Take the time to boil some chicken. If you take a shortcut, it won’t taste the same. As for the chicken I use, any cut. But at work, because of what’s in inventory, it’s 95% of the time boneless, skinless breasts.
  3. If you’ve had my chicken salad before and you want yours to taste the same, use KRAFT mayonnaise. I’m not knocking Duke’s, or whatever you like, and if you’ve never had mine personally, use whatever you like, but there is a difference in mayo. I’ve made mine at work and home with KRAFT because I grew up eating KRAFT. The few times I’ve made it with Hellman’s, in my opinion, it wasn’t as good, and I don’t normally buy Duke’s because I can’t afford to pay $5 for a jar of mayo when I can get KRAFT for $2.50
  4. NEVER under any circumstances, load the chicken salad with mayo. You want just enough to hold it together. How much is that? You’ll just have to see. I don’t put a measurement because it’s hard to say. It depends on the chicken, the size pieces your chicken is, the size you cut up the ingredients, etc. You can always add more mayo but you can’t take it out. That’s a good rule of thumb for any cooking!

So now that I’ve told you my “secrets”, here’s the recipe for Fancy Chicken Salad:

  • Cooked, pulled apart chicken (about 4 cups total)
  • 1 Red Delicious Apple & 1 Granny Smith Apple
  • 4 ribs celery, chopped (I prefer to use the tops also, so don’t discard those. They have the celery flavor and the leaves add color to the chicken salad)
  • 1 1/2 cups dried, sweetened cranberries (I usually just use a whole bag from Oceanspray and don’t even measure)
  • Mayo (amount needed will depend, but will be at least 1 cup)
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup toasted pecans or candied walnuts (optional)

That’s it! Cook chicken and shred/dice in a large bowl. Cut apples into a small dice (leaving skins on) and add to the chicken. Add the celery and dried cranberries. Mix in mayo, just enough to hold all ingredients together. You don’t want it “swimming in mayo”. Toss in some nuts if you like (I do sometimes, don’t others. Depends on my mood and who I’m serving. A lot of people have nut allergies). Season with salt and pepper (this too is up to you and your taste buds.. add some, taste it, add more if you think it needs it).

It’s great to eat on top of a green salad, made into a sandwich or wrap, or splurge and enjoy it on a buttery croissant!

Asian Citrus Vinaigrette

Let me apologize to my customers at work for the delay in getting this recipe loaded to the site. In all honesty, the vinaigrette on the salad we had this week was something I threw together just before we opened, so I had to go back and re-create it for a recipe.

  • 5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce (regular is too salty)
  • 1 tbsp orange juice
  • 1 tbsp honey or brown sugar (I used brown sugar but honey would be more palatable)
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp sesame oil (optional)

In a glass bowl, combine the vinegar, soy sauce, orange juice, honey/brown sugar and garlic. Mix well with a whisk. While continuously whisking the vinaigrette, add the olive oil in a continuous stream until well incorporated. Add sesame oil just before tossing with salad greens.

* sorry there is no picture for this recipe, I will take one and load it the next time I make the vinaigrette

California Salmon or Chicken Salad


Here are the recipes for today’s “Chef’s Table” lunch from work. Today I featured a California Grill Salmon Salad with Pear-Infused Balsamic Vinaigrette. This salad can be made with either salmon fillets or boneless-skinless chicken breasts by following the same recipe and substituting the protein of your choice. The salad composition is up to your liking. The recipe below lists the way I prepared it today with alternate suggestions in parenthesis.

First, make your dressing. To make the dressing you need either a food processor fitted with standard blade or a blender.

Pear-Infused Balsamic Vinaigrette

  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 can pear halves in heavy syrup
  • 3/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup EV olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black or white pepper
Put the canned pears and their syrup in the food processor or blender and puree. With the machine continuously running, add the garlic, salt and pepper, then add the vinegar. Pour the oil in a steady stream into the running machine. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Maple-Glazed Salmon or Chicken
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup (or you can substitute 2 tbsp dark brown sugar)
  • 2 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp minced or grated fresh ginger root
  • 1 tbsp fresh squeezed orange juice
Combine ingredients and pour over your choice of boneless chicken breast or salmon fillets and marinate for at least 1 hour. For salmon, bake in 325F oven for 15 minutes. For chicken, cook until internal temp reaches 165F either in the oven, saute pan or on the grill.
California Salad 
  • Spring mix lettuce
  • Diced red bell pepper
  • Shredded carrots
  • Sliced red onion
  • Dried cranberries (or fresh blueberries)
  • Sliced fresh strawberries (or canned Mandarin oranges)
  • Crumbled Bleu cheese (or goat cheese or Feta)
  • Candied coated Walnuts (or pecans, almonds)
  • Maple glazed salmon (or chicken)
  • Pear-infused balsamic vinaigrette
In a large salad bowl, add enough spring mix for total number of salads you would like to serve. Add to the lettuce the red bell pepper, carrots and onion. Pour 2 tbsp vinaigrette over the salad mixture and mix well to coat. Put coated salad greens in your serving bowl. Sprinkle with a handful of dried cranberries (or fresh blueberries), then arrange some sliced strawberries on the salad. Sprinkle liberally with bleu cheese crumbles, then a few candy-coated nuts and finally top the bed of salad with either maple glazed salmon fillet or a grilled breast cut into strips. Drizzle a little more vinaigrette over the protein and serve. Garnish with some thinly sliced green pears if available.