Harvest Chopped Salad

Back in September, I posted about the chopped salad that was my top choice for my birthday dinner. Since then, I’ve been overwhelmed at the amount of attention that post got! I guess the internet was hungry for the funky-but-delicious combo of smoked salmon, dried sweet corn, cranberries, and arugula (among other ingredients) topped with a creamy pesto dressing.

Writing about–and eating–the Stetson Chopped Salad got me thinking of other variations on the theme of salad ingredients layered neatly in rows. I mean, really, you can’t go wrong with a chopped, layered salad. It’s just so dang appealing, with its colorfulness, its order, and its symmetry. This Harvest Chopped Salad featuring apples, pears, cranberries, pecans, bacon, and blue or goat cheese is the product of these recent salad daydreams.

It couldn’t have come at a better time, either.

Not long ago, I started volunteering on a monthly basis as a cooking demonstrator at my local Natural Grocers. It’s a fun volunteer activity, but it’s tougher than you might think coming up with recipes that are 1.) gluten-free (Natural Grocers keeps a gluten-free kitchen), and 2.) conducive to demonstration. When you watch the Food Network, you don’t really notice that TV allows for time-lapsing cooking, or simply producing a finished version of something that took who-knows-how-long to cook or bake. In the real world, it’s not that easy. Like, if I’m demo’ing a recipe with roasted vegetables, uhhhh, what do I talk to my audience about for 45 minutes while the oven does its job?


So for the purposes of my October demonstration, the Harvest Chopped Salad is a saving grace. And maybe it will be for you, too, some autumn weeknight. There may be quite a bit of slicin’ and dicin’, but this recipe requires no lengthy cook time and can get dining-ready in no more than 30 minutes.

In fact, this recipe seems to be such a winner that I was contacted by someone at Natural Grocers’ corporate office to ask if it could be featured on their website! Of COURSE, I said! (Link coming soon.)

If you live in the Phoenix area, join me for my demo (and samples!) of this yummy fall main dish this Thursday, October 19th, at 6:30 at the Natural Grocers at 2151 E. Baseline Rd. in Gilbert.


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Harvest Chopped Salad
A hearty fall salad that's as tasty as it is pretty!
  1. On a large platter or five individual plates, spread romaine in a single layer.
  2. Cover with layered rows of bacon, pecans, crumbled cheese, diced apple, diced pear, and dried cranberries.
  3. Serve with purchased poppyseed dressing drizzled on top or on the side.
Recipe Notes

A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe, loosely based on this recipe from Iowa Girl Eats.

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BBQ Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

How about a little tuber education? As I was thinking about this recipe for BBQ Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes, I started doing some research to answer an age-old question: what’s a sweet potato, and what’s a yam? Imagine my surprise when I read in this authoritative article that “sweet potatoes are not a type of yam, and yams are not a type of sweet potato. They are both tuberous root vegetables that come from a flowering plant, but they are not related and actually don’t even have a lot in common.”


Apparently, what I think of as regular old sweet potatoes–the oblong, orange-fleshed vegetables in these photos and commonly found on your Thanksgiving table–are merely “soft” sweet potatoes, as opposed to “firm” sweet potatoes, which have a golden skin and white flesh. Yams, on the other hand, have a black, bark-like skin and purple or red flesh.

And can we just take a moment to say that “flesh” is not the greatest word to describe anything edible.

Regardless of terminology, however, these BBQ Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes are one of my new favorite fall dinners. They’ve got a lot going on: potatoes baked to tender perfection meet sweet barbecue chicken and stretchy melted Monterey Jack (plus some spinach thrown in for extra nutrition). With veggies, starch, and protein all in one package, I’m content to call them a one-dish dinner–or round out the meal with a loaf of rustic bread. They’re also a clever way to use up leftover barbecue chicken, or to make a double-duty dinner out of a large batch of crock pot barbecue chicken earlier in the week.

So whether you call them soft sweet potatoes, firm sweet potatoes, yams, or just “the orange ones,” I think you’ll be calling them a recipe to repeat once you give them a try.

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BBQ Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are baked to tender perfection and topped with BBQ chicken, spinach, and melty Monterey Jack in this fall favorite!
  1. Place chicken breasts in a slow cooker. Top with 1/4 c. barbecue sauce and cook on high for 4 hours. Remove chicken, drain of excess liquid, and shred. Return to slow cooker, stir in remaining 1/2 c. barbecue sauce, and cook an additional 15-30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash sweet potatoes and prick with a fork. Bake about 45 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
  3. While potatoes are cooking, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add spinach and saute until wilted, 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Remove potatoes from oven and slice in half lengthwise. Line a baking sheet with foil and place potatoes on it. Mash potatoes lightly and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and chili powder. Top with wilted spinach and shredded chicken. Shred Monterey Jack directly onto potatoes.
  5. Return to oven and bake an additional 5 minutes, or until cheese has melted. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

Inspired by Half Baked Harvest.

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Bulgur Salad with Grapes and Feta

I know it’s still only September, but I’ve already got Thanksgiving on the brain. Somehow, once the weather starts cooling down, it feels like one big slip and slide ride to the holidays. And as a foodie, Thanksgiving is definitely a holiday to look forward to. While I enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving dinner as much as the next person, I also love the idea of trying new recipes (especially healthier versions of classics) for the feast. Last year, on A Love Letter to Food’s Facebook page, I did a ten-day countdown to a healthier Thanksgiving, featuring ten different recipes for better-for-you sides and desserts.

This year I already know what healthy side I want to take to Thanksgiving: this Bulgur Salad with Grapes and Feta.

It may not bear much resemblance to mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, or dinner rolls, but stick with me. When we tried this recently as a side with grilled chicken, it was a match made in heaven. I can only assume the same for how it would pair with turkey.

If you’re new to bulgur, join the club. Though a variety of different grains have become available in mainstream grocery stores these days, bulgur hasn’t caught on as much as the “cool kids” of quinoa, couscous, and wheat berries. If you had asked me a year ago to tell you anything about this particular grain, I would have drawn a blank (except for an internal snicker at how its name sounds kinda gross, like “Aunt Tillie can’t make it to Thanksgiving because her bulgur is acting up again”).

The deeper I get into trying to follow a Mediterranean diet, though, the more new foods I’m exposed to. I now know that bulgur is essentially just hulled whole kernels of durum wheat. Translation: it’s a whole grain, and it’s good for you. It’s low in fat and sodium, extremely high in fiber. Plus, it has a pleasing chewy texture, soaks up marinades and dressings beautifully, and can be used in place of just about any other similar grain, like quinoa, couscous, or even rice. I’m a believer.

This Bulgur Salad with Grapes and Feta is adapted from America’s Test Kitchen’s Complete Mediterranean Cookbook (which I’m LOVING RIGHT NOW and will soon be posting about!). It’s a no-cook recipe, as the bulgur kernels take a soak in lemon juice and water for 90 minutes to soften up to the point of chewy edibility. Once the soaking is complete, the now-chewy grains are tossed with grapes, feta, fresh mint, slivered almonds, and an olive oil-based dressing.

As a side for Thanksgiving–or any other meal–give this refreshing and different salad a try!

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Bulgur Salad with Grapes and Feta
A refreshing, healthy salad featuring high-fiber bulgur, grapes, and feta cheese.
  1. In a large bowl (the bowl you intend to serve this salad in), soak bulgur in a mixture of 1 c. water, 1/4 c. lemon juice, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Cover and let sit for about 90 minutes, or until bulgur has softened and become chewy and no liquid remains.
  2. Meanwhile, make the dressing: in a measuring cup, combine 1 Tbsp. lemon juice, olive oil, cumin, cayenne powder, and 1/4 tsp. salt.
  3. When all liquid has been absorbed in the bulgur, pour dressing over the grains and toss to combine. Add feta, almonds, grapes, green onions, and mint and toss again. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately or refrigerate.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook by America's Test Kitchen.

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Pumpkin Butter Muffins

Fall may not technically start until tomorrow, but I’m calling it. My fall decorations are going up and I am ready to go Full Throttle Pumpkin. Are you?

I must say, however, that this year I am learning from previous pumpkin mistakes. Last fall, I made numerous batches of pumpkin butter and sold it to friends, family, and my husband’s co-workers. Major pumpkin love! When I circled back to see if anyone wanted to purchase a second round, though, the response was almost always the same: “We love it, but we haven’t used it up yet.”

That’s where these Pumpkin Butter Muffins come in. As far as I know, pumpkin butter is a beloved seasonal treat, but most people don’t eat enough toast to use up a whole jar of it as a spread. That means it’s time to get a little creative, because the last thing you want is for this pumpkin-y deliciousness to go to waste.

Swirling creamy pumpkin butter into tender muffins is a great way to use that extra bit of it hanging around in your fridge–and makes for a colorful breakfast that screams autumnal goodness. And hey, who’s to stop you from slathering more pumpkin butter on top of these after they come out of the oven? Not I!


Print Recipe
Pumpkin Butter Muffins
Who's ready for fall? These pumpkin butter muffins are a great way to use everyone's favorite seasonal spread!
Course breakfast
Course breakfast
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.
  3. In a smaller bowl or large measuring cup, combine egg, milk, and vegetable oil. Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir until just combined.
  4. Divide batter evenly between muffin cups. Dollop a bit of pumpkin butter into each and swirl into batter using a knife or toothpick.
  5. Bake 20 minutes or until a tester inserted in the middle of muffins comes out clean. Store in an airtight container.
Recipe Notes

A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe.

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Building a Mediterranean Diet-Friendly Pantry

As a nutritionist, if there’s one piece of eating advice I could give to the general public, it would be this:

As much as possible, follow a Mediterranean diet.

Maybe I should have this as a bumper sticker on my car, or printed on my business cards, or tattooed on my forehead. The Mediterranean diet, over and above any other diet or eating approach I know of, has been proven to have the most benefits for both physical and emotional health. Research has confirmed that it reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. And if you think what you put in your body doesn’t also affect your mind, think again: one long-term study showed that people who ate a Mediterranean diet were 50% less likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. Top that, Paleo.

But what actually IS the Mediterranean diet, and how do you follow it? Do you get to eat pizza and wine all the time? Or lots of exotic North African spices? Or since the Mediterranean is a sea, do you have to eat weird sea creatures, like octopus? Thankfully, no. Anyone who tells you you have to eat octopus is selling something (and it’s probably octopus).

At its most basic level, the Mediterranean diet is simply a common sense healthy approach to eating: lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, not a lot of meat, etc. But there are some key elements that differentiate the Mediterranean diet from, say, the generic advice your doctor might give you when they send you away with the less-than-helpful prompt to “eat healthier” and “lose a few pounds.” These include:

  • Plenty of fish and other seafood
  • Lots of beans, legumes, and nuts
  • Moderate amounts of dairy (especially yogurt)
  • Using herbs, spices, oils, and vinegars to flavor foods
  • Moderate wine drinking (especially red wine)
  • Liberal use of extra virgin olive oil

If you’re ready to make some positive changes to your diet in the direction of the Mediterranean, but aren’t sure how, a great way to start is to begin working on your pantry (and fridge, but for this post, let’s focus on all things shelf-stable). Of course, I also encourage you to try out recipes that are specifically geared toward the Mediterranean diet–like anything prominently featuring whole grains, vegetables, legumes, or fish–but before you get there, you can set yourself up for success by gradually filling your home with Mediterranean-friendly foods. Having an arsenal of healthy items on hand will increase the likelihood of your actually using them! Even if all you do is pick up a couple of the items listed below each grocery trip, those small changes can add up to a major difference in the meals you cook and eat.

Here are some ideas for what it looks like to build your Mediterranean-friendly pantry:

Whole Grains

America is in the midst of a Grain Renaissance. Never before have so many interesting grain options been so readily available in mainstream grocery stores. Here are some excellent choices:

Fruits & Vegetables

Canned fruits and vegetables have a come a long way since the days of the repellant green beans a lunch lady plopped on your plate in second grade. Even regular grocery stores are coming out with updated versions of canned and jarred fruits and veggies, like:

Beans, Legumes, and Nuts

Beans get a bad rap, but they’re my personal favorite category of the Mediterranean diet. They’re high in fiber and protein, low in fat, endlessly flexible, and easily included in so many dishes. Here are several bean/legume/nut suggestions for your pantry:


Many of the primary protein sources in the Mediterranean diet come from foods most people eat fresh, rather than preserved, and beans/legumes cover a lot of protein ground, leaving few other shelf-stable protein options. Still, canned seafood comes in handy in many recipes:

  • Canned tuna
  • Canned crab
  • Canned anchovies
  • Canned salmon

Seasonings: Oils, Vinegars, Herbs, & Spices

The possibilities for flavor combinations are endless when you have a well rounded collection of these items. Examples include:

  • Lots and lots of extra virgin olive oil
  • Vinegars: balsamic, red wine, white wine, rice vinegar
  • Dried herbs: basil, oregano, tarragon, rosemary, thyme
  • Spices: cumin, chili powder, black pepper, nutmeg
  • Honey for sweetness

To Drink

  • Water
  • Tea
  • Wine

And now that we’ve said “wine,” we’ll end there! But stay tuned for an upcoming review of a fabulous Mediterranean cookbook I highly recommend!