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.


Print Recipe
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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Ham and White Bean Soup

Ham and White Bean Soup

Here’s a cooking question for the ages: is it possible to take a classic, tried and true recipe and improve upon it? Is there a quintessentially perfect basic blueberry muffin, for example, or pot roast, and is it a sacrilege to modify them? Or how about a ham and bean soup? As far as I know, Americans have been making ham and bean soup since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. (Or at least once they figured out how to not starve–go read Nathaniel Philbrick’s excellent book Mayflower for a lesson on how the Pilgrims were kind of boneheads when it came to agriculture.) Anyway, if not since Plymouth Rock, ham and bean soup has been an American staple at least since the 1980s–I know because there’s a recipe for it in my very own passed-down Better Homes and Gardens “Red and White” cookbook.

BHG red and white cookbook

Which, come to find out, is now going for 90 bucks on the Internet. Sweet!

If a recipe is in the red and white cookbook, I consider it a classic. But to tell you the truth, last week when I read through the Ham and Bean Soup recipe in the BHG Bible, it just didn’t excite me. It used water instead of broth, had minimal seasonings, and called for dried navy beans when I wanted canned. The one thing that DID match my criteria was that it used a ham bone, which I had saved from our Christmas Ham-fest. Still, that wasn’t enough to give it the pizzazz I was hoping for, so I decided to tempt fate and tinker until I came up with something a bit more interesting. Adding chicken broth, carrots, dry mustard, and nutmeg gave this hearty soup enough flavor to eliminate the need for added salt–always a plus, if you ask me. And cutting out the dried bean soaking time got it from prep to table in under an hour. After two bites, my 7-year-old proclaimed it his new favorite soup of all time.

So, if I dare say it, I think our family has a new classic Ham and Bean Soup. Try it out and tell me if you feel the same.

Ham and White Bean Soup

Print Recipe
Ham and White Bean Soup
A hearty soup to warm you from the inside out!
Course soup
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Course soup
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
  1. In a large stockpot, heat butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add carrots, celery, onion, and ham bone and saute until vegetables have softened, about 6-8 minutes. Add garlic and saute another 30 seconds.
  2. Add all remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer at least 30 minutes.
  3. Remove ham bone and bay leaves and serve.
Recipe Notes

Kinda-sorta based on this recipe from Simply Sated.

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Pork Chops with Pan-Fried Apples

Pork Chops with Pan-Fried Apples

Today is a red-letter day. After three weeks of being on the fritz, my oven is finally fixed! As a rather obsessive home baker, the last three weeks have been pretty painful (especially since my nutrition internship required me to provide baked goods for 40 kitchen employees last week). Mentally, I’ve been running through hypothetical would-you-rather scenarios involving my oven, like, “Would I rather have a working oven or a working microwave?” “Would I rather have a working oven or indoor plumbing?” (Speaking of which, did you ever read about the British study where people reported they’d rather give up indoor plumbing than Facebook?) I think I’d choose the oven over Facebook…but the plumbing over the oven.

At any rate, it’s been a challenge these last few weeks to get dinner on the table, considering the dead oven situation. The good news is that I’ve been making these Pork Chops with Pan-Fried Apples for years and knew it would serve as one hearty stovetop-only meal that’s perfect for fall.

Except for one little snag…

As written, this recipe is a Sodium B-O-M-B. Checking the nutrition info on realsimple.com revealed that the original recipe contains 2,045 milligrams of sodium per serving–right around the recommended amount for an entire day. Holy Saltshaker, that’s a lot of sodium! Time for a recipe makeover!

For my version, I’ve cut back the salt in the pork chops’ breading, limited the salt on the pan-fried apples to just a sprinkle, and used low-sodium chicken broth for the pan sauce. With these changes, this recipe is still a fairly high-sodium one (just so you’re aware) but is more in the reasonable range. This way you can enjoy your dinner without feeling like you overdid it and have to eat flavorless salt-free mush the entire rest of the day. Even with the sodium reduced, the flavors of the savory pork and caramelized exterior of the apples join for a classic fall combination that doesn’t need anything extra. I served it over mashed potatoes to complete the comfort food feel.

And now that that’s all squared away, I think I’ll go bake something!

Pork with Pan-Fried Apples

Pork Chops with Pan-Fried Apples
(Adapted from Real Simple)


1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. canola oil
3 small to medium apples, sliced in half
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. ground cumin
scant 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 1/2 lbs. thin-sliced boneless pork chops
1/2 c. low-sodium chicken broth
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
Fresh or dried parsley


  1. Heat butter and canola oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle apple halves lightly with salt and pepper, to taste. Place cut-side down in the skillet and cook 3-5 until golden brown. Remove and set aside, covered.
  2. Meanwhile, mix flour, cumin, salt, and pepper in a shallow bowl. Dredge pork chops in flour mixture to coat on both sides. When apples have finished cooking, add more butter or oil to the pan if necessary and cook the pork 2-3 minutes per side until golden brown. Set aside, covered, with the apples.
  3. Add broth and vinegar to the skillet and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer 4-5 minutes until slightly reduced. Pour over pork chops and top with parsley. Serve with apples.

Serves 4-5, depending on appetites.

Easy Prosciutto Lasagna

Easy Prosciutto Lasagna

Lasagna is like Superman. It’s a superhero of deliciousness with one fatal flaw: it’s so dang much work to make. Granted, I still make it pretty often because, hey, who can resist noodles, cheese, and sauce baked into bubbly layers of Italian indulgence? Not I! But sometimes wouldn’t it be nice to get the end result with a little less prep time pre-cooking filling and pre-boiling noodles?

Fortunately, there is a way!

This easy prosciutto lasagna makes use of no-boil noodles, ready-to-use cured meat, and cheesy filling whipped together in a food processor so that the stovetop stays off and the oven gets used only for baking the assembled product. It’s as no-cook as lasagna gets…which leaves me with no excuse not to make it, especially since it reheats well for leftovers and also happens to be majorly tasty. (I mentioned the red pepper-infused cheese filling that perfectly complements the salty prosciutto, right?) For a comfort food classic that comes together faster than you can say “kryptonite”–or at least faster than most other lasagnas–this one’s a real superhero.

Easy Prosciutto Lasagna

Easy Prosciutto Lasagna
(Adapted from Cooking Light)


5 garlic cloves
16 oz. cottage cheese
4 oz. cream cheese
1/4 c. Parmesan cheese, divided
2 1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 egg
1 26-oz. bottle tomato-basil pasta sauce
No-boil lasagna noodles (the number will depend on the type of noodles you use; I use 12 of Barilla’s flat sheets)
4 oz. thinly-sliced prosciutto
1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Process garlic in the bowl of a food processor until minced. Add cottage cheese and process until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add cream cheese, 2Tbsp. Parmesan, basil, red pepper, and egg and process until well blended.
  3. In the bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish, spread 1/2 c. pasta sauce. Arrange lasagna noodles to cover sauce (number of noodles will depend on brand and size). Top with 1 cup of cheese mixture, then 1/3 of the prosciutto, then 3/4 c. pasta sauce. Repeat layers two additional times (noodles, cheese, prosciutto, pasta sauce). Top with one last layer of noodles and sauce. Sprinkle with 2 Tbsp. Parmesan and the mozzarella.
  4. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 45 minutes, then uncover and continue baking another 15 minutes. Let lasagna stand at least 5 minutes before slicing.

Serves 8.

10 Ways to Use Leftover Ham

IMG_4207 2

Easter has come and gone, and for us Catholics, Lent is over–bring on the alcohol! the sweets! the whatever you gave up that you have been longing for for six weeks! And bring on the HAM! I hope that however you observed Easter (if you observe Easter), it was a lovely celebration…

…and that it included a spectacularly large spiral-sliced ham like mine did. I was a little late to the ham-buying game this year, as I was stranded in Denver in the midst of a blizzard (more on that in a future post on the 2016 Nutrition and Health Conference) and didn’t get home until Good Friday. So when I went to the store to purchase a smallish ham for the six people who would be eating Easter dinner at our house, there were in fact no smallish hams to be found. All that was left were mountainous hunks of ham, like, half-a-pig-sized, fill-your-entire-cart-sized hams. I ended up hauling home the smallest ham I could find, which was the size of a human toddler (okay, it was just shy of ten pounds). Still, calculate out ten pounds of ham for six people and you get waaaay more than anyone should be eating at one sitting. So we are now sitting on several good-sized Ziploc bags of frozen ham. I am definitely not complaining. In my experience, bags of pre-cooked meat in the freezer are a total boon to meal planning, especially on the quick. There are so many meals that beg for pre-cooked meat to eliminate one step in the dinner prep process. Over the years of hosting holiday meals and having leftovers, I’ve tried to get creative and have found there are so many ways to incorporate cooked ham into lunches, dinners, breakfasts, and appetizers.

So if you, too, are harboring leftover ham, allow me to offer you ten delicious options for using it up!

1. Hawaiian Pizza

You know the drill: crust, marinara, mozzarella, pineapple, and ham. Easy peasy!

2. Ham Mac & Cheese

Mix 1 cup ham into your favorite mac and cheese recipe for a protein boost.

3. Ham and Potato Soup

A classic. Right here on A Love Letter to Food.

4. Ham quiche or strata

Also here on the blog!

5. Spinach salad with ham, cheddar, apple, and pecans

We had this last night with a raspberry vinaigrette–super simple weeknight dinner.

6. Try a unique sandwich of ham, goat cheese, and mango chutney

I had this combo at a restaurant on Bainbridge Island near Seattle and have been dreaming of making it ever since.

7. Make a quick appetizer of ham, brie, and asparagus on skewers

Skewers make everything better.

8. Breakfast burrito

Toss some cubed ham in with eggs and cheese in a tortilla for a satisfying breakfast.

9. Ham Scalloped Potatoes

Try this recipe, adding ham and peas for a one-dish meal .

10. Ham Risotto

Mmmmm, risotto! Or should I say hammm risotto? This one with sweet potatoes is on my list.


Here’s to a hammy several weeks ahead!