And now for something completely different

Posted by on Jan 7, 2015 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on And now for something completely different

Mason jar header

So, it’s the new year which means about 40% of people are making resolutions to lose weight. At least, that’s what the University of Scranton found last year. In my experience, it’s a lot closer to 80-90% of the people I know. That includes me. I’m not saying I don’t like having curves for days, but I’d like those curves to come with a little more tone than they’ve got.

All those people making weight loss resolutions means that my Pinterest homepage is swamped with all these healthy meals. Yay! It also means that every other pin is a different blog telling me how to build a mason jar salad. That’s not what this is. When I first started making mason jar salads last year, I looked at plenty of different blogs about how to layer my salads, but I realized that no one talks about the preparation of everything that goes in. In fact, I’ve seen a few blogs recommend buying pre-cut vegetables and, sorry, ain’t nobody got money for that. I’ll also show you how I get it from jar to bowl.

So, I decided Monday, when I made my salads for this week (5 at a time) to show you how to go about it. Not everyone’s worked in kitchens or knows how to prep things like the television chefs, and I’m here to show you.

First thing’s first, carve yourself out at least an hour to do everything. I set a stopwatch when I started, and it took me about 45 minutes including getting everything out, prep, taking pictures along the way, and cleaning up. That seams like a long time, but it’s really less than 10 minutes per salad, which is a really good way of looking at it.

Now, make sure you have everything you need before you begin. That probably means you need to hit the grocery store. I’ll show you what I buy and tell you why I buy it, but you don’t have to get anything you don’t like. Instead, read why I buy the items you don’t like and buy something you do like.

Here’s what I start with:

Mason jar ingredients

First, you’ll need a salad dressing you like.The one shown in that picture is one of many I’ve used. If you’re picky, read the bottles or make your own. I went on the Whole30 diet in November and was surprised at how many options there were out there that had no soy, sugar, milk, or grains. I’ll admit there aren’t nearly as many options as those that have all of those thing. I’m back to using my greek dressings because cheese is awesome.

Now, for hard vegetables. You’ll need 3-4 different vegetables that don’t wilt easily to separate your lettuce from your dressing. Otherwise, your salad won’t have any crunch, and wilty (not wilted) salads are sad. This week, I chose tomatoes, cucumber, carrot, and bell pepper. Usually, I choose cherry tomatoes, but I’ll get into that later.

Then, I have a transition/fatty layer. On this layer, I always put cabbage because it’s harder than most lettuces, but it’s not as hard as a carrot. Then, I add my fats. Here’s where I put my cheese and meats. These provide an oil barrier so that the moisture of the salad dressing doesn’t drift up and make your lettuce less crunchy. If you’re vegetarian, you can use just cheese, but I really don’t know what to recommend for the vegans out there. Please let me know what the fatty layer is for you.

Finally, you’ll need your lettuce and toppings. They all live in the same area. I buy romaine because it has many more vitamins than iceburg, but I’ve also mixed the two in the past. I also include sunflower seed kernels and alfalfa sprouts because I love them. If you want to have croutons or any toppings made from bread, I’d store them separately to keep them crunchy.

Now, onto the tools you’ll need:

Mason jar tools

You will absolutely need all but one of these items. The last is just really helpful.

Knife – you will need a chef knife – a 6 to 8 inch blade is the best.

Food processor – This is optional, but it will save you a ton of time. Make sure you get the kind that has a slicer/grater blade. If you don’t have a food processor, you can always grate your cheese and slice your vegetables by hand.

Mason Jars – I use pint-sized, wide-mouth jars. However, I also make “meal” salads, not side salads. These run about 400-500 calories each, but it’s all I eat for lunch. If you’re making side salads, you probably want to use a regular sized mason jar.

Tablespoon – You will need to measure your salad dressing. I also use this for sunflower seeds.

Bowls – You’ll need a bowl for each ingredient that doesn’t have its own container. In my ingredients picture, you can see that three of them have containers of their own, but I have 7 bowls for all the rest.

Okay onto prep. Let’s get started. First, I’m going to share the ultimate in “keeping your work space clean” technology – a piece of saran wrap.

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I put all of my organic waste onto that piece of saran wrap and use it keep everything together. In our city, there has recently been a law passed that the landfill here is no longer allowing anything organic. That means we all have compost bins. So, when I’m done with my prep, I just dump all of the vegetable pieces into the compost bin. If you just toss them into the trash, you can wrap it up into a pretty little package before you throw it away.

Then, I peel all the vegetables that need to be peeled while aiming them at the piece of saran wrap. Today, I peeled my carrot and my cucumber. If you have an English cucumber, you don’t have to peel it. Honestly, you don’t have to peel a regular cucumber, but some people find the peels bitter.

2015-01-05 11.44.02Then, I turn my food processor blade to the side that slices. Mine is very helpful, it says, “SLICE” on that side.

sliceEach of the ingredients gets its own bowl. I know that they’ll all get mixed together eventually, but you want them separate at this point.

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I shred my cheese in the food processor on its grate mode. Mine says “SHRED”.

Next for tomatoes. I only used one, but I wanted my pieces to be bite sized. In my opinion, there’s nothing worse than having to decide whether to unhinge my jaw or to cut up my salad more than it already is. To avoid that, I cut each half of my tomato into four wedges then cut those in half.

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There are a million ways to cut up a bell pepper. I start out by cutting around the stem then pulling it out altogether.

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 Then I cut the pepper in half and clean out all the white and seeds.

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I cut the pepper into strips then cut those into cubes. I’ve found that the skins can sometimes be a little tough, so I slice the meat first. It makes my job easier.

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 Now, the cabbage. I buy a half a head of cabbage about once a month or so. I make one thick slice into it each week. A little bit of cabbage goes a long, long way, and it keeps forever. Slice it into strips one way then dice it the other way. I always make a crumbling motion with the cabbage to separate out all the layers.

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For some reason, no one ever teaches anyone how to properly cut up romaine lettuce. I’ve seen a lot of different methods, but a lot of them result in really big pieces of lettuce. This is a technique I learned when I worked in the salad kitchen at the Imperial Palace in Las Vegas. First, tear off about a handful of the top. That section is always bruised and beaten up from its travels.

2015-01-05 11.51.40 Then cut a line down right next to the centre stalk of the leaves and cut straight through the head. Turn the head and make another cut. For best results, cut at least 3 times. I usually make a cut on each side of each stalk.

2015-01-05 11.51.56Then cut lengthwise along the leaves creating small bites of lettuce. Cut all the way until the green leaves turn white. Throw away the core.

 

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You are also welcome to ponder how I got this picture with an iPhone and how long it took.

Last, but not least, I cut up my chicken. We don’t want to cut vegetables on a chicken-laden cutting board. Okay, so first off, I use pre-cooked chicken that I buy from Costco. When I started making these salads, I priced out the difference between raw chicken and precooked. I discovered that the price difference was less than 50 cents per 100g (that’s about $2/lb, Americans). I then calculated all the work I’d have to do to grill raw chicken, chill it, and cut it up. That 50 cents was determined to be well worth it. I buy a double pack of grilled chicken with the ingredients, “Chicken” at Costco every 2 weeks and freeze half of it. The only problem is that some of the pieces are a little too big to be considered “bite sized”.

2015-01-05 11.59.21I dice those up to make them a little easier to eat.

2015-01-05 12.00.46Then I clean everything up.  Here are all of the bowls and containers waiting.

2015-01-05 12.08.11Now, why all the bowls? Well, if you’ve ever seen a cooking show, you’ll see that many of the TV chefs have their ingredients pre-measured in little bowls. That allows them to keep cooking without having to stop and measure out each item. Having each of these parts of your salads ready to go is going to make construction so much easier. And now for the section that every blog has – the construction of your mason jar salad:

Start with dressing again. I’ve found that, for a pint jar, you’re going to need 2 Tbsp of dressing minimum. If you have a dressing that doesn’t have a lot of flavour, you might need 3.

2015-01-05 12.11.06Then come the hard vegetables. If I have grape tomatoes, I drop them in first. Because I cut up my tomatoes today, I’ll put them on top of my carrots, but under bell peppers and cucumbers. Because I peeled my cucumbers, I put them on top of the hard vegetables.

2015-01-05 12.12.44Finally on the hard layer is the cabbage. Like I said earlier, it’s a transition vegetable. It’s at the top of the hard vegetables, but under the fatty layer.

2015-01-05 12.13.18Then to your fatty layer. Cheese first then meat. This is not set in stone, but I see the cheese as the layer that blocks the dressing from the lettuce. You can do it however you want. In fact, when I did Whole30, I used no cheese, and that worked out ok.

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Then for the lettuce! Remember that lettuce is very compressible! More will fit than you think! I put a handful in each jar then press it down with the back of my hand. Then I add in my sunflower seeds and alfalfa sprouts. For reference, I use 2 Tbsp of sunflower seeds because I love them.

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Sprouts compress as well, so push them down too.

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Then, I add another layer of lettuce on top of my toppings.

2015-01-05 12.15.59You have salads!!

2015-01-05 12.23.44Now for the part that I’ve never seen anywhere. How do you eat this salad? I saw one blogger say she shakes them, but mine don’t have nearly enough room to make them salad shakers. I also saw someone claim she eats them out of the jar with a fork, but the layers don’t mix inside the jar, so I pour my salads into a bowl. First off, I turn my jar upside down.

This allows the Dressing to start trickling throughout the mason jar. I’ve never actually had the dressing pool on the lid. I think it’s because of the fatty layer. While it’s sitting there, I grab a bowl. I don’t grab the bowls that I eat soup out of, no, I grab a serving bowl. These salads are huge. Here’s a comparison of the bowl I eat salad out of and the bowl I eat everything else out of.

2015-01-05 12.24.56Finally, I take the lid off the mason jar and pull all the ingredients out into the bowl. They’re usually clumped together like they were in the jar.

2015-01-05 12.25.33One good stir, and you’ve got an amazing meal in seconds!

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