Spinach Caprese Salad with Sweet Vinaigrette

I've been doing quite well maintaining my healthier lifestyle the past few months—I've even managed to lose a little weight, or at least I had until cookie baking season rolled around. Having cookies in the house is more temptation than I can resist, so I've tried to make eating healthy as simple as possible. My current go-to meal comes in the form of these festive looking salads. I love that they can be made several days in advance and the ingredients kept on hand for those times when I'd rather stand over the kitchen sink and devour my most recent batch of cookies (and lets be honest, we've all been there.) With these salads on hand, no matter how busy I am with holiday preparations I have a healthy lunch at my fingertips and I can't make excuses for eating an entire tray full of cookies during a fit of hunger (or insanity.)  

Spinach Caprese Salad w/ Sweet Vinaigrette

Spinach Caprese Salad with Sweet Vinaigrette
makes 4 servings + extra vinaigrette

Ingredients

for the salad

6oz baby spinach
8oz fresh mozzarella pearls
10oz grape or cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
fresh ground pepper, to taste

for the vinaigrette

¼ cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon minced garlic, dried
¼ teaspoon parsley, dried
⅛ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 pinch red pepper flakes, crushed
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil or other oil of your choice

Directions

for the salad

  • Layer baby spinach with fresh mozzarella pearls and sliced grape tomatoes. Top with sweet vinaigrette and black pepper.

for the vinaigrette

  • In a small saucepan combine the cider vinegar and sugar, turn the heat to high and cook until the sugar has dissolved, about 2 - 3 minutes. Allow the mixture to cool slightly before continuing.
  • Add sea salt, dried minced garlic, parsley, fresh ground pepper, and red pepper flakes to the still-warm vinegar. Slowly add oil, then stir or shake until well combined. 
  • Vinaigrette can be stored in a covered container for approximately 2 weeks (I use a half-pint mason jar.) The ingredients will separate, so you'll need to shake the jar to combine the ingredients before serving.

Notes

If you want to turn this into a mason jar salad to-go, wash and completely dry your jar. Put a tablespoon or more of vinaigrette in the bottom of the jar. Add enough tomatoes to completely cover the vinaigrette, add a layer of mozzarella, and finally spinach. Don't let your mozzarella sit in the vinaigrette, it will start to form a hard skin and turns somewhat rubbery.

Place a small square of paper towel at the top of the jar to soak up any condensation. This will work wonders to prolong the life of your salad. Seal the jar and refrigerate until you're ready to eat. Mason jar salads are best when consumed in 2-3 days, although a large batch of vinaigrette will stay fresh for at least two weeks.

Ruby Red Smoothie

My habit of skipping breakfast has been years in the making. Even when I was younger I'd rush off to school having eaten nothing, only to be starving before the first bell rang. This habit didn't change much as I got older, although I did wise up and start carrying granola bars in my backpack after one of my classmates commented on the fact that the jolt cola I was chugging down like my life depended on it was doing nothing to quiet my grumbling stomach. By college my classes had fewer than 15 people in them, so the whole room knew I'd rolled out of bed just in time to drive to class.

Now that I have a child of my own my eating habits have changed for the better. I've been trying to lead by example (and so far it's working.) If he sees me eating a healthy breakfast, then he's more inclined to eat breakfast as well. And if breakfast happens to include something brightly colored with a fun straw, it doesn't really matter than I've hidden beets and spinach in it, it looks like fun therefore it gets consumed quickly.

If you're not entirely sold on the idea of beets, try adding a little bit more each time you make your smoothie. After a few days you won't even notice that you've been slipping something healthy into your drink. I'll admit, it took me a little while to adjust to their earthy taste, I've never been a fan of beets, but I've been drinking these several times a week for months now and have really come to enjoy them. Hopefully you will too, but if not feel free to leave me a comment below. I love to hear feedback, both good and bad.

Ruby Red Smoothie

Ruby Red Smoothie
makes 1 serving

Ingredients

1 handful fresh spinach
4 - 6 beet slices, frozen (see notes)
4 - 6 whole strawberries, frozen
1 over ripe banana

Directions

  • Combine all of the ingredients and blend until smooth. Serve immediately.

Notes

I've been buying bags of frozen beets from Whole Foods, they run about $2 for 10 ounces of non-gmo beets. I find that I'm more likely to add them to my smoothie if I don't have to worry about slicing them up myself. 

Spinach Manicotti

Valentine's Day less than two weeks away and I have to say I'm dreading the occasion. I've always felt it was one of those holidays we could really do without because it's always felt so forced. I mean, do we really need a holiday reminding us to tell our loved ones that we love them? 

Absolutely not.

I may not be the kind of girl who wants flowers and chocolate for Valentine's Day, but deep down inside I'm a romantic at heart. I love to surprise my husband with what I've always called random days, where I stumble across something I know he'll love and give him a random gift or cook his favorite dinner out of the blue. I just like seeing the smile it brings to his face. And if random day happens to coincide with a rough week at work or a bad day, then that's even better.

I think a lot of people forget that we don't need a holiday or special occasion to give gift or plan a romantic dinner for those we love.

If you're looking to plan a romantic dinner for two, for Valentine's Day, or just because these manicotti make the perfect main course. Just pair it with a loaf of Italian bread, a salad with home made dressing, or Garlic ParmesanGreen Beans and you've got a meal that will please even the pickiest of eaters. 

Do you have anything special planned for Valentine's Day, or do you prefer to pretend the holiday doesn't exist?

Spinach Manicotti

Spinach Manicotti
makes 3 - 4 servings

Ingredients

2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups fresh spinach

16 ounces ricotta cheese
½ cup parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated
9 Manicotti Noodles
32oz Pasta Sauce (I use Mids Garlic and Onion)
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, shredded

Directions

  • In a food processor add minced garlic and fresh spinach, pulse until finely chopped, then combine with ricotta and parmigiano-reggiano cheese.
  • Place cheese mixture in a disposable icing bag or zip lock bag, cut the tip off, then pipe the filling into the manicotti noodles.
  • Place filled noodles in a 7 x 11 inch glass baking dish, cover with sauce, and refrigerate overnight to soften the noodles. If you don't plan on making this dish in advance you'll need to boil the manicotti noodles for 4 - 6 minutes, then allow them to cool before stuffing with cheese.
  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Top manicotti with shredded mozzarella, then bake for 30 - 40 minutes.